Wilson Carlile Founds the Church Army

This is the day that … Wilson Carlile died, in 1942.

Carlile was born in Brixton, London on 14 January, 1847. His favourite toy as a child, he tells us, was Joey Billy, a wooden doll that he played with until “arms and legs and hair had been lost.” But, adds Carlile, “Joey Billy taught me to love poor, disreputable, broken things.”

He suffered from a spinal weakness all his life, which hampered his education. He entered his grandfather’s business at the age of thirteen but soon moved on and learnt fluent French, which he used to good advantage in France trading in silk. He later learned German and Italian to enhance his business, but was ruined in a slump in 1873.

After a serious illness, he began to take his religion more seriously. He was converted by reading Mackey’s Grace and Truth, given to him by a Plymouth Brethren aunt and was confirmed in the Church of England.

Speaking of his conversion he says, “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.”

He acted as organist to Ira D Sankey, during the Moody and Sankey missions and in 1881 was ordained priest, serving his curacy at St Mary Abbots in Kensington, together with a dozen other curates. The lack of contact between the Church and the working classes was a cause of real concern to him and he began outdoor preaching. In 1882, he resigned his curacy and founded the Church Army, four years after the foundation of the Salvation Army.

He was known as “the archbishop of the gutter”!

He continued to take part in the Church Army administration until a few weeks before his death.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

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