Today we take a moment to remember a hero of the faith, Wilson Carlile, founder of the Church Army.  Carlile was a musician for D.L. Moody who went on to become an Anglican Priest.  The Church of England at the time was considered to be an institution for the well-to-do, and Carlile was determined to make Jesus famous among all people…the rich, the poor, soldiers, factory workers, farmers, etc.  To do this, he created the evangelistic society mentioned above.  Carlile brought the Gospel to everyman, no matter what they lacked in terms of status. 

There are great lessons to be learned from Carlile.  We as Christians are often guilty of separating ourselves from those who need Christ for the sake of hoping to preserve our own purity or “testimony”.  We speak our own language, have our dress codes, our own standards for behavior.  Look at how many things we own that bear the name “Christian”…our books, our exercise programs, our music, and Lord have mercy, even our breath mints.  We are tempted to be exclusive, a club too good for sinners…The folks who don’t talk, look, smell, or live like we do.  We can be, as my grandma used to say, Lady Astor-butts, snobbish in our determination to be, or at least appear to be, separated from “the world”. 

Carlile teaches us to remember the disaffected, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden.  My prayer today is that I would always remember the poor, and know that but for the grace of God, I could be in their shoes.  Lord, make me compassionate.  Lord, make us, the Church, compassionate.

* Born in 1847 in Brixton, England, Wilson Carlile was from an early age afflicted with spinal disease, which made his education difficult. He entered his grandfather’s business at the age of thirteen and soon became fluent in French, which he used in his own silk trading endeavors in Paris. His business was eventually ruined in the economic depression of the 1870’s. The collapse of his business resulted in physical and emotional distress, and it was during this time that Carlile turned to religion for comfort and a new sense of direction.

After serving as an organist in Dwight L. Moody’s evangelistic missions, Carlile was ordained a priest in 1881, serving his curacy at St. Mary Abbots, the parish church in Kensington. He had long been concerned with the church’s lack of presence among the poor and working classes, and as a curate, he encouraged soldiers, grooms, coachmen, and other working laymen to preach the gospel among the residents of some of the worst slums of London. Many among the church establishment accused Carlile of “dragging the church into the gutter.”

In 1882 he resigned his curacy and devoted himself to the formal establishment of the Church Army, an organization dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel among the least of society. Despite great resistance, he sought official approval for his organization and its work from the Church of England Congress in 1883. In 1885, the Upper Convocation of Canterbury passed a resolution officially approving and recognizing the Church Army. Carlile served as rector of St. Mary-at-Hill, Eastcheap, London, from 1892-1926, where he continued his administration of the Army’s ministry. In 1905 he was honored as a Prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Today, Church Army evangelists are admitted to their offices on behalf of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, both of whom are vice-presidents of the society. They are licensed to operate within the Anglican system by individual diocesan bishops within the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“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.” – Wilson Carlile

To learn more about Church Army, click here.

* This biography of Fr. Carlile is borrowed  from the website for The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of  The Episcopal Church.

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