Recalling the faith that built Angelus Temple

Roberta Semple Salter, the daughter of Aimee Semple McPherson, remembers her mother's faith in God to see Angelus Temple built.

Angelus Temple ground breaking

My mother, Aimee Semple McPherson, was convinced the Lord wanted her to build an evangelistic center in Los Angeles grander than any of the halls and auditoriums she spoke in around the world.

My grandmother, I called her Mother Kennedy, liked to say, “Why fish for minnows when you can fish for whales?” The larger the building the better, and Mother agreed.

Too many times, Mother had been invited to preach someplace where the facility was inadequate, or the crowds grew from one night to the next. She knew the building she would build should accommodate thousands so that everyone could hear the gospel. Raising the money for such an enterprise in the early 1920s would have been challenging for any evangelist, but no woman before her had made the attempt.

Mother saw a beautiful pie-shaped piece of property with a “for sale” sign on it. The shape of the parcel reminded her of a megaphone, and she immediately noticed that the widest part of the megaphone pointed toward Hollywood, which was a newly flourishing entertainment mecca in the distance.

After some negotiating with the property owner, Mother bought the land. Throughout the process, Mother was convinced that God had orchestrated the entire transaction and would come through with the money she needed to build.

Wherever Mother preached, she sought the support of people to help her build Angelus Temple and to be part of spreading the gospel throughout the world. People in her meetings just loved her and wanted to be part of the ministry, even if they might never visit Los Angeles for themselves and see the finished structure.

I remember meetings in Denver, where people could buy a “sack of cement” for one dollar. In reality, we used little yellow cotton bags like men bought their chewing tobacco in, but in place of tobacco, we filled them with cotton balls. People loved the clever reminder that constructing a ministry center takes money, and every time they looked at their little sack of cement, they would remember to pray for Mother and Angelus Temple.

For people who lived closer to the property, or those who visited from out of town, Mother and Mother Kennedy provided donors with a more tangible means of building the Temple. We drove wooden stakes every so often in the bare ground and offered people the opportunity to “buy a stake” in the ministry. Each stake had a Bible reference, and again, each one provided a physical reminder of God’s purpose for that property.

In the beginning, outsiders had their doubts whether Mother would ever complete the ambitious center. In fact, her lack of money maybe should have given her cause for doubt, but she never doubted God’s provision. When she had only enough cash to excavate the property, she told the contractor, “You dig the hole, and God will fill it!”

Miraculously, and to the surprise of everyone except Mother, God did fill it! Many people sacrificed to see the Temple built. I remember helping count the offering after one service where I found a beautiful diamond ring in the plate.

Many years after Angelus Temple was dedicated in 1923, I met a man at an annual Foursquare convention who remembered making a donation to build the Temple. “You know, Roberta, I have a little wooden chair that sat on our family mantel for years. Your mother gave it to my mother in exchange for a donation to buy a chair for the Temple.”

Redwood chair with Echo Park Tabernacle inscription

I had almost forgotten about those little chairs, but when the man reminded me, I instantly remembered them right down to the tiniest detail. Small enough to fit in a large dollhouse, but certainly too small for a human to sit on, these chairs were crafted out of California redwood. “Echo Park Revival Tabernacle,” the original name of what is today Angelus Temple, was inscribed on each chair.

Mother challenged people to “buy a chair” in Angelus Temple and take this memento home with them as a reminder. We sold over 5,000 redwood chairs, and I have often wondered if anyone visiting Angelus Temple ever tried to locate the specific chair with their name on it. Although none of the seats in Angelus Temple were marked in such a way, Mother Kennedy kept immaculate records and knew the name of each person who helped build the Temple.

When Mother Kennedy died, all of her financial records came to me. I found a canceled check for $100 that had paid the deposit on the property shaped liked a megaphone. God provided in a miraculous way when Mother built Angelus Temple, and for nearly 100 years it has stood for interdenominational and worldwide evangelism, just as she hoped it would. The year 2023 is not that far off, and Angelus Temple will still be standing and accomplishing the same ministry Mother started 100 years ago.

(1910-2007) was the daughter of Foursquare’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson.
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