Church Army

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Church Army
Motto Faith, Words, Action
Founded 1882
Type Non-profit, Christian
  • UK and Ireland
Fields Evangelism, Outreach
Key people
Wilson Carlile, Philip Johanson OBE, Mark Russell

The Church Army is an evangelistic organisation founded in the Church of England and now operating in many parts of the Anglican Communion.

Church Army in Blackpool 2000


The Church Army was founded in England in 1882 by the Revd Wilson Carlile (afterwards prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral), who banded together in an orderly army of soldiers, officers and a few working men and women, whom he and others trained to act as Church of England evangelists among the outcasts and criminals of the Westminster slums. As a curate in the parish of St Mary Abbott, Kensington, Carlile had experimented with unorthodox forms of Christian meetings and witness, going to where coachmen, valets and others would take their evening stroll and holding open air services, persuading onlookers to say the Scripture readings, and training working people to preach. Previous experience had convinced Carlile that the moral condition of the lowest classes of the people called for new and aggressive action on the part of the Christian Church and that this work was most effectively done by lay people of the same class as those whom it was desired to reach. This was at a time when similar groups were appearing - the Revd Evan Hopkins was organising a ‘Church Gospel Army’ and other clergy had established a "Church Salvation Army" at Oxford and a "Church Mission Army" at Bristol.[1] Carlile suggested a combined "Church Army".

As the work grew, a training institution for evangelists was started in Oxford with F S Webster as Principal, but soon moved (1886) to London, where, in Bryanston Street near Marble Arch, the headquarters of the army was established. Marie Carlile, Wilson Carlile's sister, was a frail woman who left a life of elegance for the tough, austere life of training women in 1888, followed by the first "Recue Shelter" for women in 1891, and continued in the mission for fifty years.

William Booth had already seen the extreme poverty and need for unorthodox evangelism work, and since 1865 had been developing a similar mission (in 1878 given the name Salvation Army), using similar "Christian soldier" metaphors, also in London slums. Church of England bishops approached Booth about the time the Church Army was founded to join in their work in the slums, but he declined.[2] Both the Church Army and the Salvation Army continued to work in the most dreadful slums; both had some difficulty with their parent churches (Church of England and Methodist) being able to cope with those coming out of the slums as a result of the mission work, and realised the need for alcohol-free refuges.

During the First World War, the Church Army was very active among the troops in France, and ran around 2000 social clubs across France.[3]

In 1965 a new chapel, the Church Army Chapel, Blackheath and college designed by E.T. Spashett ARIBA, in Vanbrugh Park, Blackheath, London SE3 was opened by Princess Alexandra and consecrated by Michael Ramsey.[4] The Headquarters were in Marylebone Road, London NW. In 1978, Church Army purchased Winchester House, a former missionary school (see Eltham College) in Blackheath, south-east London, to be refurbished as its new headquarters. It was officially opened by the Queen Mother on 12 June 1980.[5] In 1992, the Church Army vacated the Vanbrugh Park college buildings and the college was relocated to Sheffield; the buildings were taken over by Blackheath High School.

The Church Army is now a member of the The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) by virtue of its work towards the personal and social development of young people.

Principles and practices[edit]

Today, the legacy of Wilson Carlile continues as Church Army evangelists work to make a difference in people’s lives; taking the gospel into the community and sharing in the things that matter to people. The Church Army has over 300 evangelists devoted to a wide range of services in Anglican churches, projects and teams throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Church Army’s focus is on reaching out and making the church effective by meeting people where they are; they start from here and discover ways of creating fresh and relevant expressions of Christian community. There are similarities to the Salvation Army, and the two sometimes work together (such as in the Fresh expressions initiative), but the Church Army is not a separate church denomination.

The current president of the Church Army is Rowan Williams, previous Archbishop of Canterbury and before him Desmond Tutu,[citation needed] emeritus Archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was the president.

Every September, Church Army celebrates Church Army Sunday; this is the Sunday nearest 26 September (the anniversary of Wilson Carlile's death in 1942), the day on which Carlile and the Church Army are celebrated in the revised Anglican Lectionary. On this day, the Church Army encourages churches to reach beyond their walls: to "get out more" and engage with the local community through various activities – chocolate parties, car boot sales, community fun days and many more.

Mark Russell heads the organisation; he was commissioned as the youngest ever chief executive of the Church Army in November 2006 by Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, and was an appointed member of the Archbishops' Council.[citation needed]

Church Army International[edit]

Church Army International, established in 2006, is an association of eight independent Church Army societies around the world (Africa, Australia, Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, United Kingdom & Ireland and the United States) working in over 15 countries. The purpose is to facilitate communication, co-operation, fellowship and shared vision between Church Army societies and to promote the growth of the Church Army's ministry worldwide.

The leader of each society is a member of the Church Army International Leaders' Forum chaired by the International Secretary. The forum has four telephone conferences each year and the leaders together with those responsible for training and board representatives meet together for a residential conference approximately every three years.


Each Church Army Society is responsible for the training of its staff. In some situations, students are paired with evangelists currently serving in the field; others attend residential schooling. Between 1965 and 1991 the Wilson Carlile Training College was at 27 Vanburgh Park, Blackheath, where the premises included the Church Army Chapel.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Rowan 1905.
  2. ^ Murdoch 1996, p. 111.
  3. ^ Wilkinson 1996, p. 154.
  4. ^ "Court Circular; "Thatched House Lodge, Richmond Park, May 6"". The Times. 7 May 1965. p. 16. 
  5. ^ Rhind 1993, p. 119.

External links[edit]