It was Christmas Eve during the Great Depression, and two girls, both under 10, found themselves abandoned and alone on the front porch of a volunteer from the Angelus Temple Commissary.
The sisters had no food, shelter or family—they had no Christmas. The older of the two, Dorothy, later became a Foursquare minister with her husband, Allan Hamilton. In an article published in 2014, Dorothy, who passed away in 1986, recounted how Foursquare and caring volunteers from Angelus Temple saved the girls’ lives and gave them a future in Jesus.
The Foursquare Crusader magazine, in an article dated Aug. 6, 1927, reported the formation of a new ministry at the time called the Foursquare City Sisters, perhaps the first structured response of The Foursquare Church to the burden of poverty and natural disasters.
“The words ‘Angelus Temple’ and ‘Service’ will be synonymous hereafter,” said Foursquare Founder Aimee Semple McPherson, referring to her Depression-era plan to cover the city of Los Angeles, the county and all of Southern California with what she called “a great service relief bureau such as the Automobile Club does for automobiles.”
For two years before the Great Depression struck, Angelus Temple met the needs of hurting people, in total serving some 1.5 million people. The Commissary distributed blankets and clothing, and Angelus Temple members even provided jobs for those who needed work.
Emergency requests came to Angelus Temple from across the City of Los Angeles, seeking assistance in the wake of disasters, such as a house fire that left a family homeless. The members of Angelus Temple responded as fast as they could. People often needed help before resources could be delivered by other agencies, and the Foursquare City Sisters were able to respond to emergencies in a timelier manner. They divided Southern California into sections on a map and then stocked emergency supplies in the homes of church members or in branch churches. When a call came in, the Angelus Temple switchboard would find out the local address and then call the Angelus Temple team member closest to the emergency.
Sister McPherson commissioned the City Sisters to “go anywhere at any time in response to the wailing of a newborn babe, the cries of weary and desolate souls, or the moans of a dying brother or sister.” For two years before the Great Depression struck, Angelus Temple met the needs of hurting people, in total serving some 1.5 million people. The Commissary distributed blankets and clothing, and Angelus Temple even had an Employment Bureau that helped find jobs for those who needed work.
One young pregnant woman went into labor while her husband was away trying to find work. The woman had other children to care for and no food in the house. City Sisters were dispatched to the scene with baby formula and diapers to care for her children, and they helped the woman successfully deliver her baby. They made sure the family was safe and healthy.
This was the response Sister McPherson hoped for—women in every community who would respond to immediate needs where and when they happened. For larger emergencies, multiple teams nearest the crisis would meet the need together. The response of the Foursquare City Sisters was one of the reasons Angelus Temple became known as “first on the scene” in the aftermath of Southern California disasters.
The renowned Foursquare evangelist Dick Mills (1922-2012) was first influenced by Sister McPherson’s ministry when he was 11 and heard about relief efforts of Angelus Temple. “On the evening of March 10, 1933, Long Beach, Calif., was struck by a severe earthquake that resulted in millions of dollars in damage and the loss of some 120 lives,” he wrote in an article published after his passing. “I was 11 at the time and recall how moved I was when Aimee Semple McPherson mobilized Angelus Temple to reach out to victims.”
Dick also recalled how a co-worker many years later came to his defense when other workers were mocking him for being a minister with a church founded by a woman. The man told the other workers that his family would have died if it had not have been for the social concern shown by Sister McPherson and Angelus Temple when his family was in crisis, even though his family did not attend her church.
Foursquare workers have a long track record of compassion for people, especially during times of crisis and disaster. That tradition continues today through a global outreach called Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR), serving those affected by natural disasters, diseases, war and other calamities. FDR partners with local churches in the U.S. and other nations to provide spiritual care and to meet physical needs.