Our history

Wilson Carlile

Wilson Carlile establishes Church Army

In 1882 Wilson Carlile established Church Army with a vision to train ordinary Christian men and women to reach those most in need with the gospel. Carlile started to hold open air gatherings where he would encourage grooms, coachmen and other working people to share their faith in both words and action. As Church Army grew Carlile also focused the charity’s work on the slums of Westminster – one of the darkest spots in London. In 1885 Church Army was officially recognised by the Church of England.

Church Army grows rapidly and training colleges open

Church Army mission caravanIn 1883 a Church Army Training College was opened in Oxford which was shortly followed by a Women’s Training College in 1889 overseen by his sister, Marie Carlile. (For more inforamtion about Marie read her story collated by Sister Joan Hudspeth). Other highlights from these early years included the establishment of a series of men’s homes and women’s homes, social work in the slums, prison missions, and horse drawn mission caravans. For the time, this work was considered extremely unorthodox and Wilson Carlile famously said: “We do not seek to drag the Church of England into the mud but to bring some of the social mud into the church.”

The turn of the century

The turn of the century saw a time of consolidation for Church Army with steady development continuing in all departments and the need to support those facing unemployment became a strong focus. The mission caravans, which were now becoming motorised, also continued during this time and by 1914 there were 70 in operation nationwide, along with a number of new initiatives including pioneer tent missions, beach missions, the Church Army Printing Press and the making of evangelistic cinematic films.

World War 1 recreation hut

Serving others during World War One

World War One 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.

The inter-war years

During the 1920s, the Marching Crusaders began with mission treks all over England seeing groups of evangelists walking and travelling from one village to another throughout the summer. As technology developed, mobile cinema vans were also launched.

World War Two, hope in our darkest hour

World War 2 Mobile CanteenThe Second World War again saw Church Army active with the forces, providing spiritual and physical comfort all over Europe as well as 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 when the last train had gone… Church Army also cared for local people who sheltered in underground stations and we took tea urns, food and babies’ bottles down on the escalator. Prayer times and services were much appreciated.” 

Reaching out beyond the church

As a new age dawned following World War Two, Church Army renewed its efforts to reach those outside of the church and many evangelists were employed to work with children and young people – the future generation. This led to dedicated youth centres being built as well as 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.

Church Army today

In 2012 Church Army became an acknowledged mission community within the Anglican Church.