To have an understanding of the Church Army, one must start with its founder, Prebendary Wilson Carlile. He was ordained an Anglican clergyman in 1880. While working in the inner city areas of London, he was distressed by the misery in the lives of many people. It was his conviction that people could be saved from this by a vital and real experience of Jesus Christ. He believed passionately that a group of dedicated men and women was needed to do battle for Christ in the lives of those beyond the frontiers of church influence. For this reason the Church Army was founded in 1882. (From: Soldiers and Servants by Mrs. Grace Haldenby)
Carlile soon realized that one cannot simply preach the Gospel to hungry and homeless people. Thus, the Christian social work of the Church Army grew side by side with evangelism. This thrust of evangelism and social service is still being carried out today in the world-wide society. There are autonomous societies in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, East Africa and here in Canada.
The official work in Canada began in 1929 under the direction of Arthur Casey with the opening of the Church Army Training College in Toronto. Today the Church Army provides the church with trained evangelists, a God-given calling, founded on the Scriptures. The Church Army is a mosaic of practical ministries including evangelistic mission, pastoral work, Christian social service, youth ministry and chaplaincy. But let us go back more than a century to England where it all began.
The BeginningCalled “The Chief”, Wilson Carlile has inspired generations of Church Army evangelists with his earnest desire to help other people, whatever their needs may be, and thus bring them closer to God. He did not begin this way.
He was born in 1846, the eldest of a middle-class family of twelve in Brixton, England. As a child, music was a great delight to him. Before he was three, his mother found him on tiptoe trying to play the family piano. He figured out some pleasing chords and persuaded his mother to help him learn more. From then on, much of his time was spent on music. He was also good at languages. When he was sent to school in France at age fourteen, he quickly learned to speak French. In later life, he was also proficient at German and Italian.
Upon his return from France, he joined his grandfather’s business firm and by age eighteen, owing to his grandfather’s failing health, Carlile came to be mostly in control. Thus, at the beginning of the 1870’s he found himself a successful young businessman. He was ambitious, having determined he would earn his first 20,000 pounds before he turned twenty-five. By the time of that birthday, he had made well over that amount.
In 1873, a great depression began and continued with a few breaks until 1896. It brought poverty and distress to working people, but also had immediate and disastrous effects upon the business community. Carlile was among those severely affected by the depression. The prosperity which he had carefully built up suddenly failed. Mental strain led to a physical breakdown and for many weeks he was confined to his bed. All this time he had spent in acquiring material wealth and position, and all for nothing. He began to question the purpose of life. No answer given to him brought him any satisfaction until he happened to read Mackay’s Grace and Truth. At once Carlile knew he had found what he was looking for. Later he would say:
“I have seen the crucified and risen Lord as truly as if He had made Himself visible to my bodily sight. That is for me the conclusive evidence of His existence. He touched my heart, and old desires and hopes left it. In their place came the new thought that I might serve Him and His poor and suffering brethren.”
Carlile’s new-founded singleness of mind gave him the drive which was to lead him through the many difficulties and seemingly impossible situations of the future. Although upon his physical recovery his father took him into his own firm, Carlile’s real interest now lay in religious work. About this time, Dwight L. Moody held his great rallies in Islington. Wilson offered his help. Ira Sankey, the musical director, recognized the young man’s ability and placed him at the harmonium where he accompanied the singing of the huge crowds who came to hear Moody. Following this mission he went with Moody to Camberwell where he chose and trained the choir for the South London mission. Thus he gained a solid understanding of the techniques of evangelism and the part that music can play. This knowledge would stand him in good stead when he became leader of the Church Army.
He learned more from Dwight Moody than this. He learned the essentials of his new-found faith and became inspired with the ambition of becoming an evangelist. In time, he joined the Anglican communion and then decided to take Holy Orders. He was accepted by the London School of Divinity and after 18 months passed his examinations, having been ordained a deacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Lent of 1880. Following this, he was accepted as a curate at St. Mary Abbots, Kensington. Through his curacy, he wanted to reach people, including the guard at Kensington Palace, who had nothing to do with the church. Ordinary working people regarded the churches as ‘resorts of the well-to-do’ (Charles Booth) and believed they would find no welcome within. Wilson wanted this to change and was determined to break down all barriers.
Since none of his efforts to bring ordinary people into his congregation worked, he decided to hold open-air meetings to attract folk as they passed by. As time went on, he drew others to help him and people began gathering in such large numbers that the police told them to ‘move on’. There were complaints and Carlile was told that his meetings would have to stop, but he was also encouraged to continue them elsewhere in a more appropriate spot.
Carlile resigned his curacy in order to devote his time to slum missions. His goal was to use the working person to help fellow workers, but to do so within the structure of the Church of England. Such work had already begun in a few other areas of England. Wilson Carlile wanted to coordinate all their efforts, so that trained evangelists could be sent to any parish where they were needed. It took time for the idea to catch hold, but in 1882 the Church Army was born. Why ‘Army’? Carlile’s answer was that the evangelists intended to make war against sin and the devil. Also it was a time of wars – the Franco-German war was not long over and the Boer War was soon to come. It was a time of Army consciousness and discipline from above.
As long as Wilson Carlile was the head of Church Army, he remained authoritative and masterful, but always he recognized the higher authority of the Church of England. No work was carried out in any parish without the approval of the incumbent, nor in any prison or public institution unless the evangelists were invited by the chaplain.
Carlile met resistance in the early years but he persisted in trying to acquaint clerics and public officials in major cities with Church Army’s aims, ideas and methods. In 1885, the Upper House of the Convocation of Canterbury passed a resolution of approval. With increasing support from a few bishops, the Army gradually gained the respect of the Church. By 1925, the Church Army grew to become the largest home mission society in the Church of England.
And it did not take long for the work to spread beyond England.
In CanadaChurch Army in Canada dates back to 1886. W. J. Eccleston, one of the first group of candidates commissioned in England, began at Soho Mission House in Toronto. The following year he served in St. Stephen’s church hall, and later worked in the Anglican Diocese of Huron. A hostel in Winnipeg was in the charge of an English Church Army couple in the 1920’s as well.
Following a successful outreach in the United States, Arthur Casey and a team of eleven evangelists were permitted by the Bishop of Fredericton (Province of New Brunswick) to work in his diocese in 1925. Their evangelistic work was so effective that other bishops requested a demonstration. In 1926, Casey returned to Canada from England with a team of twelve evangelists. Many invitations from other parishes followed. As a result of these crusades, a movement grew to establish a Church Army in Canada.
In 1928, the House of Bishops “commended the efforts now being made in different parts of the Dominion to organize the Church Army on the lines that will be suitable to Canada”. The upshot was the opening of the first Canadian Training Centre on February 2, 1929 on Howland Avenue in Toronto.
Of the first eight students, who were commissioned in 1930, some went into churches and others into evangelistic work, especially to the highway camps, which housed men on their way up country. Church Army Vans were sent to the dioceses of Toronto, Ontario, Ottawa and Huron to reach the people throughout these extensive areas. In many instances these cadets were the only contact that some of the more isolated farms had with the Church.
By 1933, Church Army evangelists were scattered in outposts across Canada, including, for example, the Queen Charlotte Islands and Rupert’s Land. Captain H. Gibson, working in the Magdalen Islands, reported that at a children’s service ‘we gathered in two boys who had never seen a church before. They had come from Brion Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where two families lived. Neither had seen a camera, heard of ice cream or heard about God.’ The team on the 1938 crusade of witness remembered ‘hot, tiring days; bumpy, dusty roads; hard parish hall and schoolroom floors’. But the reaction in the parishes was positive. One pastor reported, ‘the witness was personal and consistent. We liked the simplicity of speech, based upon personal experiences.’ Another said, ‘With sincerity, simplicity, hilarity and utter devotion, they witness to the love of God with spontaneous joy.’
In mining areas 150 to 200 miles away from the traveling priest, Church Army evangelists felt that their work as representatives of the Church was ‘to cheer and encourage as well as to lead those who in their disappointment need the power of God.’ In Toronto itself, a certain amount of social work was done for the unemployed and for discharged prisoners.
Meanwhile, following the privations the Church Army experienced during the depression, the Training Centre had been moved in 1935 to a much larger quarters at 397 Brunswick Avenue in Toronto.
Because of the Second World War, the number of students entering the Training Centre dwindled in the forties. Some enlisted before completing their course, and there was some confusion about the duties and status of those who remained. General Synod of the Church, meeting in Halifax in 1949, recommended the discontinuance of the Training Centre as it was then constituted, but the maintenance of the capital assets with the idea of re-establishment of the work under more favorable circumstances.
Favorable circumstances were not long in coming. Beginning in the fifties and continuing through the decades, the work of the Church Army expanded.
2012 - Launch of Street Hope Saint John NB.
2012 - Shawn C. Branch is appointed as National Director.
2010 - Launch of Street Hope Moncton NB.
2009 – (March 1) Church Army in Canada is renamed ‘Threshold Ministries’
2006 – Philip Johanson, OBE becomes the first International Secretary for Church Army International
2006 – Launch of Street Hope Peterborough ON
2004 – Church Army commissions first non-Anglican Evangelist.
2004 – National Office relocates to Saint John NB.
2002 – Opening of new campus for Taylor College, Saint John NB.
1999 – Launch of outreach base in Abbotsford BC.
1999 – Launch of Northern Gateway Community Chaplaincy, The Pas MB.
1998 – Training college is relocated to Saint John NB and named “Taylor College”.
1996 – Bruce Smith is appointed as National Director.
1992 – Knight Centre opens in Elkorn MB as a centre for teaching and mission.
1989 – Walter Marshall is appointed as National Director.
1987 – Launch of outreach base in Victoria BC.
1967 - First female evangelist is commissioned in Canada.
1964 – Christian Hostel is opened in Kamloops BC.
1964 – Launch of Inner City Youth Club in Toronto ON.
1959 - Founding of Church Army East Africa.
1957 – First gathering of Prayer Partners in Ottawa ON.
1957 – Founding of Church Army Jamaica.
1952 - Ray Taylor is appointed as National Director.
1951 – (December 9) Death of Marie Carlile.
1942 – (September 24) Death of Wilson Carlile.
1939-45 – Many Church Army Evangelists enlist for WWII, with many giving their lives. Most ministry bases and projects in Canada close.
1936 – Church Army receives Provincial Charter in Ontario.
1935 – Launch of Carlile House for young men in crisis, in Toronto ON.
1935 - Training centre and offices relocate to 397 Brunswick Avenue, Toronto ON.
1935 – Founding of Church Army New Zealand.
1934 - Founding of Church Army Australia.
1933 - Assumes responsibility of the after-care of young immigrants sent to Canada by the Immigration Department of Church Army UK.
1930 – First Commissioning of Evangelists, at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto ON.
1929 – Founding of Church Army in Canada at 143 Howland Avenue, Toronto ON.
1927 – Founding of Church Army USA.
1883 - Training of Evangelists begins at Oxford UK.
1882 – Founding of Church Army.
1873 – Conversion of Wilson Carlile.
1861 – (November 24) Birth of Marie Carlile.
1847 – (January 14) Birth of Wilson Carlile, founder.
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