The Early Days of Training

Training has always been part of the fabric that makes up Church Army. Seeing people accept Jesus naturally leads to them telling others this Good News, and so training Christian women and men in the duty of evangelism. This is how it started.

Evangelists and Mission-Sisters Wanted

“Prebendary Carlile and the Committee of the Church Army would be grateful to the Clergy and others if they would kindly introduce young men, whom they deem to be called of God to further His work, for preparation in the Church Army Training Homes and Mission Vans as Evangelists, Social Officers, etc. Some experience in religious work necessary. Free board and lodging during the whole period of training; salary subsequently guaranteed. Often a stepping-stone to Foreign Mission work. Earnest Christian women (age from 25 to 30) willing to devote themselves to work among
the poor as Bible Women, Mission Sisters in the slums, or as Rescue Workers, are likewise required. Board, lodging, laundry, and out-door uniforms provided free during training. Salaried posts guaranteed afterwards to successful candidates.”

The Birth of Church Army Training

The story of Church Army training goes back to the earliest days before Church Army itself had come into existence. Fuelled with a passion to see the lost become saved, Wilson Carlile would hold services in the open air every night in Kensington from 9pm to 10pm even in the rain and snow. On top of his parish work during the day, the nightly preaching became so great a strain that he was compelled to train some of his lay helpers to become preachers. These were people who had come to know Christ through Wilson’s preaching and caught the fire to spread the good news to others. The first was a young butler, the second a groom. They began simply with a reading from the Bible, and then gradually ventured to tell how the passage read fitted their own experience. In time, he began to send them to the slums of North Kensington, where they held evangelistic meetings in lodging houses or on street corners. These meetings were also held in a hall after evening church. Wilson would conduct the meeting and also hand over to those who were helping him. Sometimes 50 people in one meeting would give talks or short prayers. This early hands-on training, as unofficial as it was, in many ways was a natural progression for those who had come to faith in Jesus and had their hearts turned towards sharing the good news with the lost.

Can you take a back seat and play second fiddle with a Happy heart?

The training was practical and effective but as Church Army was founded and beginning to develop, the need for full-time evangelists grew quickly. Advertisements were placed in church papers for applicants. Along with spiritual experience, those applying for training would answer questions such as: “Can you take a back seat and play second fiddle with a happy heart?”, “Can you use the same homely language in speaking for Christ as for your trade?”, “Can you turn a disturber out of a meeting in a smiling and kindly manner?”, “Can you be as daring for Christ as the worst are for Satan?”, and “Can you start tunes at the right pitch?”.


And so Church Army training was established. Wilson Carlile’s vision was that evangelism would be the role of every Christian, not just those whose role was in the church, as at the very start, this type of training did not call for great educational attainment, but rather for those who knew and loved Jesus and had a thirst to see people be saved. Early recruits for training included tradesmen, miners, blacksmiths, shop assistants, clerks and factory workers.

Female candidates were usually nurses and teachers, as well as domestic servants, weavers, tailoresses and a number of young women who had never worked. Some came from the armed forces and even a few university graduates chose life of evangelism over a prosperous career, much like Wilson Carlile himself. The first Training Home was founded in 1882, in Oxford, in a converted shop. The building could house ten men at a time and provided one meal a day. For the rest of the time the Cadets (as they were known) fended for themselves. They would attend Evensong in the Cathedral before going out to do mission work in the back streets. A few years later, the Training Home moved to London and Church Army soon commenced the training of women to become Mission Nurses (who would later be known as Mission Sisters). A women’s Training Home was set up close by and the men and women began to share the same lectures and combine open-air services. At first, the training was very brief and lasted only three months, and just ten weeks for the Mission Nurses (including hospital work). There was not a lot of money to invest in training in those days, but as funds slowly improved over time, so did capacity to extend the training. Wilson was often accused of trying to push insufficiently trained evangelists onto parishes, but the training, though brief, covered the Bible, the prayer book, the life of prayer and devotion and also a lot of practical experience in communicating the Gospel indoors and in the open air, often in Hyde Park, where there was no short supply of opposition.

Church Army Training Today

Fast forward to today and Church Army is still training men and women who are called to make their evangelistic gifting their vocation. Each year we take on more Evangelists-in-Training who spend three years working towards becoming Commissioned as Church Army Evangelists (CA). The ethos of learning by-doing is something that has never been forgotten and those training with Church Army spend much time practicing evangelism in their own context alongside training in theology and mission.

We also train the younger generation of evangelists as well as those who are in their 30’s and above through the community we call ENVOY, where impassioned people who want to share the hope they have in Jesus learn together and support each other as they talk with others about the Christian faith.

A Day In The Life of a 1900s Evangelist-in-Training

Evangelistic training with Church Army was not an easy life.

The Mission Nurses had a similar programme with some afternoon rest if they were involved with midnight ministry to girls on the streets of Central London. Their training included several weeks experience in a hospital learning elementary nursing skills.

A typical day in the Training Home in the year 1900 would looks like this:

6:30amDay stats, usually with a cold
bath followed by household duties, often
referred to as “scrubology”
8:00amChapel service followed by
breakfast and bedmaking.
9:30amLectures (with a short break)
1:00pmLunch followed by harmonium
practice (everyone was expected to play an
instrument of some kind)
2:30pmShort prayer meeting followed by
a few hours in the parish visiting people
and selling copies of the Church Army
5:00pmTea followed by private study
7:00pmPublic house visitations, open air
meetings in Hyde Park, indoor services in
the College Chapel
10:00pmSupper and prayers followed by