Rev. Rossi back in news as Hollywood success story

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It's a made-for-the-big-screen tale of a minister, a beaten wife, an attempted-murder charge and a mistrial. And that's just the director's personal story.

Pittsburgh native Richard A. Rossi Jr., the former Cranberry minister of the First Love Church who moved to California after his 1996 mistrial for the attempted homicide of his wife, has been delving deeper into Hollywood following the success of his 2006 feature film on the early 20th century's glamorous, scandal-plagued evangelist, Sister Aimee McPherson.

The story line of the movie, "Sister Aimee: The Aimee Semple McPherson Story," which Rev. Rossi wrote and directed, bears some eerie resemblances to his own life. The phrase "The greater the anointing, the greater the accusation ..." is displayed prominently on the film's Web site www.aimeesemplemcphersonmovie.com.

It looks at the life of Sister Aimee McPherson, the "evangelist with pulchritude," who used radio to attract a huge following in the 1920s and '30s, despite affairs, a faked kidnapping and several marriages.

The movie arrived at local video stores and other retailers last week.

It was voted one of the top guerrilla films of all time and has generated mostly positive feedback since its initial release. Typical of many of the four dozen comments in a discussion of the movie on the Web site www.topix.com was this from Justine in Los Angeles: "Pittsburgh auteur Richard Rossi has been to hell and back and his past brokenness enables him to write and direct 'Aimee Semple McPherson' in his own blood. Most powerful indie film ever! Thank you, Rich Rossi. We love you."

According to various Web sites, the Rev. Rossi, 45, has been busy in the meantime. In addition to finishing his first novel and beginning work on a film about Roberto Clemente, he and his wife, Sherrie, founded the Eternal Grace Church, based in North Hollywood. As the church's Web site states, North Hollywood is "a city known for the power lunch [but] we experience the power of the Holy Spirit."

The Rev. Rossi did not return calls to his California home seeking comment.

The numerous biographies accompanying his recent successes include declarations of being "tested as a genius level IQ" and his writing "thousands of songs," but none mentions his 1996 trial.

That came after his badly beaten wife was found in 1994 along a rural Connoquenessing Township road.

When she awoke in Allegheny General Hospital from a three-day coma, she accused her husband of the attack.

He was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. But his wife recanted her original account several months later, adopting Rev. Rossi's contention that a similar looking man who drove a like-model car was responsible.

Although there was a mistrial, he was sentenced to four to eight months in prison along with four years of probation after pleading no contest to one charge of aggravated assault. He served 96 days.

Neither do his biographies offer insight into his earlier pastoring stops, other than an oblique reference to a "controversial church" he started in 1986 that "met in a bar, served wine and hors d'oeuvre, worshipped with rock music [and] was attended by movie stars ..."

His eight years of ministering in this region began with him trying to change both the name of The Church of the Three Rivers and its affiliation in 1988. That effort failed. He joined the Assemblies of God the next year and built the Cranberry Assembly of God up to 250 members, but left in 1991, saying God's ministry for him was too radical for the Assemblies. Officials, however, said he left owing several thousand dollars for the church building.

His church work in California has not escaped controversy, either.

He was fired from his first job after 21/2 years as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church when parishioners discovered the attempted homicide charges and charged that he also had diverted church money for his personal use.

Then he was protested by followers of Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan., who decried his lenient attitude toward homosexuals.

It's all, evidently, become fodder for his creative side for, as he is fond of saying, "Art is a ministry and ministry is an art."


Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.


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