Royal Reels: Gambling


The advertising cover has a blue shield with THE CHURCH ARMY, and SERVICE TO ALL, in the ‘ribbon’ below. It is addressed to the Director of State Lotteries, Corner of Barrack & York Sts., Sydney. It has a purple handstamp ‘Department of the Army/ Concession Postal Rate’ and a green 1d QE stamp of Australia is cancelled with a LARGS/ 27 NO 41/ N.S.W. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

At the age of fourteen, Wilson Carlile (1847–1942) left school to work in the family silk business. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 he dodged about on the Continent, often enough between the lines of the opposing forces, picking up the raw material of his business at low, panic prices. At 25 he realised his ambition having amassed a fortune of £20,000. The depression of 1873 wiped out his fortune and Carlile found himself bedridden with a serious illness for six months. In those months of despair and illness he gave his life, his heart, his soul absolutely and completely to God. Later he said, “God threw me on my back so I could look up better.”

In 1880 he was ordained for the ministry in the Anglican church and became a curate inKensington responsible for the evening service. Two things concerned him. The sparse evening congregations and the crowds that passed by the church unshepherded. He soon introduced an early form of cinematography– the magic lantern–into the service. This had the effect of driving away all the “orthodox” people in horror, and attracting men and women from the street.

He started week night gatherings for the rough and rowdy lads of the district using comiclantern shows to attract and entertain them followed by a devotional message and theopportunity to receive Christ. Many did. He ran open-air services at night to reach the butlers and groomsmen of the wealthy at the end of their day’s work. Vast crowds gathered and at times the meetings turned violent. Some of the worst men in Kensington became his regular workers.  Carlile discovered that he could be far more effective if he put up ordinary working menand women to speak, keeping them on the platform for a relatively short time. He was theleader, they were the workers. It was this insight that ultimately led to the establishment ofthe Church Army.

Why ‘Army’? Carlile’s answer was that the evangelists intended to make war against sin andthe devil. Two men-servants who had been his first open-air speakers at Kensington volunteered to be trained as Church Army officers. The focus of his ministry moved to the slums behind Westminster Abbey. Open-air meetings attracted large crowds. Ordinary people proclaimed their faith. The crowd violence grew worse. Church Army workers were pelted with red ochre and stones. They were beaten. Yet some of the most hardened sinners were won over to Christ. In 1883 a criminal gang member, enraged that an associate has been converted, attacked Carlile. He spent the next six months recovering.

He set up a centre in Oxford to train lay evangelists. He embarked on a national tour to explain the aims, ideas and methods of the Church Army to Anglican clergy. By the end of 1885 the Church Army had 65 evangelists and 6,000 voluntary members in parishes throughout the country. Many of them were “one time drunkards, gamblers, wife beaters, blasphemers, and others–who are now working for the cause of Christ.” Gradually there came upon him the conviction that he must leave all and, following after Christ, give up the rest of his life to the service of God and man.” A picture of a Church Army van is seen in Figure 2.

Eventually Carlile saw 1,000 trained and commissioned men and women in the field. In 1892 Carlile, inspired by the example of the preaching friars of the thirteenth century and the early Methodist circuit riders, decided to mobilize a band of men who would travel throughout the country in twos and threes preaching in hamlets and villages. The plan was to provide them with caravans, similar to the ones used by the Gypsies of the day. An officer was in charge of each van and accompanied by one or two trainees. They ministered among the villagers, the seasonal farm workers and even the gypsies who were impressed that the Church was coming to them in caravans.  A photo of Wilson Carlisle is seen in Figure 3.

Since then the ministry has spread to the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Scandinavia. It is 1932 that Captain John Cowland boards a ship in England, and sails halfway around the world in response to a call from the Australian Church to lead an evangelistic mission. His team of ten travels to every Australian State and Territory and reaps a great harvest of souls on behalf of the church. The result of Cowland’s campaign was unanimous support of every Australian Bishop to establish the Church Army in Australia. For the past 70 plus years the Church Army has been serving the Australian Church with a focus on conversion, consecration and committed church membership. A picture of Captain John Cowland is seen in Figure 4.

This paper is largely based on the following websites: and