September 26:Wilson Carlile; Priest, 1942

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About this commemoration

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.


God of boundless energy and light: We offer thanks for the courage and passion of Wilson Carlile who, after the example of thy Son, sought new ways to open thy Church to diverse leaders as beacons of the Gospel of Christ. Quicken our hearts to give bold witness to Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

God of boundless energy and light: We thank you for the courage and passion of Wilson Carlile who, after the example of your Son, sought new ways to open your Church to diverse leaders as beacons of the Gospel of Christ. Quicken our hearts to give bold witness to Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Jeremiah 7:1–7

2 Corinthians 9:8–15

John 13:12–17

Psalm 41:1–5,10–13

Preface of God the Holy SpiritText From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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10 thoughts on “September 26:Wilson Carlile; Priest, 1942

  1. Psalm: Again, why leave out verses 6-9 of Psalm 41 as unworthy? Is it the ‘deadly thing’? 😦

    Bio: This priest needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement – after all, he is the founder of the Church Army.

    3rd paragraph: The last sentence should identify that this Saint Paul’s Cathedral is in London, England.

    4th paragraph: Why is the office of ‘vice president’ hyphenated?
    “They are licensed to operate within the Anglican system …” System? I didn’t know that Anglicans had systems. We are having an already difficult time with a covenant, but now we have a system? 🙂

  2. The second paragraph is quite confusing. I do not understand how serving as an organist for the Moody’s evangelical missions qualified the Rev. Wilson Carlile for ordination. Besides, Dwight L. Moody was an American evangelist. I was under the impression that Kensington was an affluent area of London. So it does not follow that being a curate of St. Mary Abbots would learn to a concern for the poor and unchurched on London without further explanation.

    The last paragraph of the biography is taken from the following quote from
    In the revised Anglican Lectionary, Carlile and Church Army are celebrated on 26 September, the anniversary of his death in 1942. Church Army evangelists today are admitted to the Office of Evangelist in the Church on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury or York, both of whom are vice-presidents of the society. Evangelists are licensed to operate within the Anglican system by the individual diocesan bishops within the UK and Ireland. Her Majesty the Queen is the patron of Church Army.

    Here “system” appears to refer to dioceses within the Church of England and not the larger Anglican Communion. Obviously the quote changed meaning when it was translated from a Church of England context to the Episcopal Church in the United States.

    The importance of this commemoration might be better understood if the range of outreach activities of the Church Army were explained or at least outlined.

  3. Carlile is a most welcome addition, although I hesitate to point that out. Is it perhaps because he’s British that an evangelical has managed to slip past the committee?
    In any case, give Carlile his own date! For my money, you could bump him to the 27th and drop Vincent de Paul. We’ve already got enough Roman Catholics in the calendar to demonstrate our ecumenical spirit, and they both occupy about the same saintly niche.
    If you’re going to quote the accusation of “dragging the church into the gutter,” include Carlile’s response: “We do not seek to drag the Church of England into the mud but to bring some of the social mud into the church.” Also find some room for his response to the Archbishop of Canterbury who accused him of wanting to turn the Church upside down: “No, your grace, inside out.”
    And find some space for a mention of his sister and co-worker, Marie Louise Carlile.

    • ‘Is it perhaps because he’s British that an evangelical has managed to slip past the committee?’ No, I don’t think that is the case. I believe that in recent years the SCLM has actually had a desire to add commemorations that would be appreciated by Evangelicals. It does sometimes seem that they don’t quite know how best to go about that, but I think the willingness is there. It’s a pity that since the resignation of Laurie Thompson of TESM the Commission has not had a member who is publicly identified with the evangelical wing of the church and who could have helped with some of these biographies. But this blog is our opportunity.

      And in Carlile’s case, it might be better not to stress his evangelicalism, because in founding the Church Army he went to great lengths to avoid its identification with any party in the church. What could be stressed, and this would be as encouraging to today’s Evangelicals as to many others, is his commitment to lay ministry, and to the belief that people without a traditional theological education (or any education, come to that) could witness to their faith effectively. He was not only concerned that the gospel be proclaimed ‘among the least of society’, but by the least of society.

  4. I am glad for his inclusion and an explanation, however brief, of the Church Army. Perhaps as some have suggested, there should be more about this organization. I know of it only from passing references in novels, and had guessed it was something like the Salvation Army. Does it also use military rankings? Does it also have brass bands? This is not me being a tease, I really want to know. In the US, at least, the Sally Army is quite homophobic. I hope this is not true of the Church Army. BTW, I typed my email address badly – it ‘s

  5. I really question the inclusion of Wilson Carlile in a TEC calendar. Don’t we have enough Brits already? I have only known one (former) CA member in the US, the late Howard Galley. (We don’t hear much about the Church Army USA today. Perhaps we should.)

    The subheading needs expansion. Carlile wasn’t chosen because he became a priest. I would add “and Church Army Founder”.

    Not all users will know where Brixton is located. I suggest “Brixton, a district of Lambeth”, or “Brixton, in south London, near Lambeth Palace”. (We have all heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office and official residence.)

    What is the Anglican “system”? Would not “Communion” be perfectly appropriate?

    Did some Brit draft this bio? Few readers will know what a “prebendary” is. I suggest adding “(a type of cathedral canon)”, and then deleting the word “Cathedral” after St. Paul’s.

    There is no mention of Church Army USA. We would be more interested in learning about procedure in TEC, such as whether CA ministers require licensing by our diocesan bishops, then the C of E rules..

  6. The Church Army hasa done good work in England and in the US and its founder, of whom I had never heard, shoudl be able to be remembered, but I doubtif anyone will use these propers rather than Lancelot Andrewes on this date.

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