“We do not seek to drag the Church of England into the mud but to bring some of the social mud into the church.” - Wilson Carlile
Imagine a church that is full of people who are worshipping God together, content with the Sunday services and happy with things as they are. Along comes a young curate on fire with the gospel wanting to spread the Good News to people who wouldn’t dream of setting foot inside a church. In 1882 this was the dilemma which Wilson Carlile faced. In response he established Church Army with a vision to train ordinary Christian men and women to reach those most in need with the gospel. As Church Army grew Carlile also focused the charity’s work on the slums of Westminster – one of the darkest spots in London.
1880s and 1890s
In 1883 Church Army was officially recognised by the Church of England. Also that year Church Army Training College opened in Oxford, which was shortly followed by a Women’s Training College in 1889. Other highlights included the establishment of a series of men’s and women’s homes, social work in the slums, prison missions, and horse drawn mission caravans which travelled from town to town.
At the turn of the century the need to support those facing unemployment became a strong focus. In 1905 more than 350,000 men received temporary residential care in Church Army homes and marquees. There were also a number of new initiatives launched including pioneer tent missions, beach missions, the Church Army Printing Press and the making of cinematic films for evangelism and publicity.
World War One
The First World War saw Church Army working both at home and overseas providing much-needed recreation huts for the armed forces. At their peak these huts welcomed more than 200,000 men each day. Alongside this Church Army also operated ambulances, mobile canteens and kitchen cars. Following the end of the war Church Army opened training centres for men who had been left disabled by the fighting and the first of Church Army’s Motherless Children's Homes was also opened.
World War Two
The Second World War again saw Church Army active with the forces all over Europe and at home, especially during the blitz. Evangelist, Winifred Dawes, recalls: “During the blitz I was asked to open up a tea car on platform one of Paddington Station for soldiers passing through. We opened at 8.00am and closed at 1.30am… Church Army also cared for local people who sheltered in underground stations.”
1950s to 1980s
As a new age dawned many evangelists were employed to work with children and young people – the future generation. Dedicated youth centres were built and significant relationships developed with Scouting and Guiding. Church Army’s parish work and residential work also continued which included homes for the elderly and hostels for homeless men and women.
Today, Church Army continues to build on the foundations laid by Wilson Carlile. Our vision is for everyone everywhere to encounter God's love, and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action. This is at the heart of all Church Army does as it gives hope to those most in need; the homeless, women experiencing prostitution, those battling addictions, young offenders, the elderly and children and young people to name a few.
For more information about our work over the years and stories from those involved, why not take a look at our Legacy website
- full of inspiring memories from those who have been a part of Church Army throughout the years.