Meeting Wilson Carlile
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21. Meeting Wilson Carlile

Church Army

Wilson Carlile and TromboneNervously, I paced up and down in a little side room of the London Church Army Headquarters in Marylebone in Central London, England, just north of Hyde Park, where Kensington Palace also stands. I thought to myself, "What will it be like to see and talk with Wilson Carlile," the Chief himself? However, my anxiety faded away as I grew more intrigued by his office and the workplace's sparseness. It looked like a large broom closet or an accountant's office with its blank walls, high stool, and neat piles of paper.

The Warrior Bursts In

Wilson CarlileSuddenly, like a warrior, Wilson Carlile (1847-1942) burst in. His trim grey uniform and carefully manicured appearance were quietly impressive. His alert, fiery eyes greeted mine. How intent he was on talking about our Lord! After meeting Wilson Carlile, we spoke for over an hour before I realized that we had hardly mentioned the American Church Army at all!

Holy Ghost and Fire

Carlile and His SisterLater, I realized why his eyes had sparkled when I stumbled across a little booklet he had written called "The Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire." The fact that he had experienced the Holy Spirit and the fire of God explained his extraordinary zeal. It was a joy to have known Wilson Carlile in person, even for the briefest time. As I rose to leave Wilson Carlile's office, he grasped my hand, and with a characteristic sparkle in his eye, gave me a final command. "Keep one eye on the lord, and the other on the lost!" This first memorable encounter in England in 1938 fired me with a vision for a lifetime's ministry that blasted my four-year contract into oblivion. "Was this the real reason the American Church Army had dispatched me to London?" I asked myself. After talking with the Chief, Captain Ray goes to a meeting with Archbishop Lang in Lambeth Palace in London.

Archbishop's Photo

Archbishop LangThe Founder's visit invigorated me. I then went to Lambeth Palace for a meeting with Archbishop Lang, accompanied by Captain Frank Mountford and Sister Florence Sullivan of the American Church Army Society. Frank had a good measure of the Founder's spirit himself, and after meeting Archbishop Lang, asked to photograph him. At first, the Archbishop brushed off the suggestion, but when the determined Yorkshire man persisted, he cautiously asked, "You're not going to use this for publicity, are you?" "Oh, you naughty man!" the Captain retorted. "To think we would do that!" Reluctantly, the Archbishop allowed him to take a photograph!

Wilson Carlile Monument

St Paul's Cathedral at nightWith hundreds of other Church Army officers, Captain Ray Lewis sees Wilson Carlile's monument in Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, England. Sometime after visiting the picturesque Lambeth Palace, the Church Army took over the majestic Saint Paul's Cathedral for its annual Thanksgiving Service. Three hundred choir members and nine hundred uniformed officers in the cathedral's body sang with great gusto and finally erupted into shouts of praise. How magnificent it was to see Wilson Carlile's monument for Christ! When Sir Christopher Wren, the architect, and builder of this enormous cathedral, died, friends built a stone tablet at his resting place in the crypt. It reads, "If you seek his monument, look around."

Zealous Officers

St Paul Cathedral PostcardLooking around that day at all these zealous officers, I saw a monument, not to the builder of the cathedral Sir Christopher Wren but Prebendary Wilson Carlile himself. He left a living army for Christ established during his lifetime. However, the Chief never seemed to dwell on the army's achievements but took every opportunity to appeal for new projects like the homes he wanted to build in the slums. After one such challenge at a rally in London, he astounded everyone by suddenly concluding, "Well, I must get to bed!" He then turned and hurried off the platform! After a Hyde Park meeting with Wilson Carlile, Captain Ray Lewis talked with a zealous Church Army officer in London, England. A Hyde Park meeting with Wilson Carlile excited me all those years ago. A young English Church Army officer excited me further. He, too, was enthusiastic about this Hyde Park meeting and then added sadly, "Oh, yes, but there is so much sin here!" We both fell silent, but his words started me thinking. The American Church Army, I recalled, had chosen John the Baptist as its Patron Saint for an extraordinary reason. His message had been "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." That meeting in Hyde Park had brought that fact home.

The Lamb of God

Saint Martins CanterburyHow easy it is to forget that the reason Jesus came was to bear our sins. History seemed to permeate the English countryside, no matter where I went. I knelt for communion at the fifteen hundred years old St. Martin's Church in Canterbury. Christians had worshiped here since St. Augustine's day. It reminded me of the saying, "Numbered with all thy Saints." In those awe-inspiring moments in that lovely place, I remembered loved ones far away whom I missed so much.

Church Army Crusaders

Church Army VanCaptain Ray Lewis enjoys the Royal Festival Hall rally in London and then works with Church Army crusaders in Chester and Yorkshire. Another experience every bit as memorable as St. Martins in Canterbury was the Royal Festival Hall Church Army rally. There, we held in 1956 our Annual Royal Festival Hall rally with Church Army Crusaders. This magnificent domed edifice towered dauntingly above my head. I was there representing American Church Army officers, but I had no chance to be cocky about the U.S.A. and "our big deals!" The great crowd gathered there to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular. He had come with the Press hot on his heels because of his outspoken words.


The whole place resounded with applause as he stood to his feet. "How fine it is to be among friends!" he said. He then retold the story of his conversion as a young man. The ministry of a Captain on a Church Army Van made this happen. "In 1939," he told us with a grin, "I sent out seventy Church Army crusaders on a trek from Chester cathedral. Ever since, I've wished I could get my hands on them again! There is no undue emotion in the Church Army, but just enough! You show it is a 'shouting joy' to be a Christian. You have Christ's outlook on life!" Later, I had an opportunity to practice my Christian outlook on life with Church Army Crusaders. I traveled to the North of England to work with Captains Wilson and Horsford on the Yorkshire mission van at Ganton. Yorkshire was such a cold place even though I kept the stove banked up day and night! I learned how to eat an egg daintily like an Anglican from an egg cup, and in return, showed the men how to make an American Duke's mixture Dinner! Being with these cheery officers, I caught what I sometimes called "the Spirit of the Church Army Crusaders" of simplicity, discipline, and enthusiasm.

Church Army Trek

Trek Cart (Boy Scouts Similar)Captain Ray Lewis discovers that the Church Army trek brings many blessings in Portadown in Northern Ireland. Captains Paterson, Clarke, and Steward vividly displayed the qualities of perseverance and faith in an exhilarating walking trek I joined in Northern Ireland. After an early Holy Communion service in Portadown in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, we loaded our green Church Army trek cart. Hitching the strongest team member to the front, we started the two great wheels rolling on the long march to the next village. A jovial Captain Paterson who was much shorter than the rest kept pace with a faltering trot!

Santo Spirito

Banko de Santo SpiritoWhen this Church Army trek in Ireland had finished, I visited Italy for a holiday. Upon my arrival in Rome, the first thing to catch my eye at the airport was an unusual sign outside a Bank. It read "Banko de Santo Spirito" or the "Bank of the Holy Spirit!" Pope Paul V founded it in 1605 AD! My initial amusement increased to blessing as I realized the hidden significance in these words. From his treasury, the Holy Spirit means every Christian to draw a wealth of heavenly currency of love, joy, and peace. God intends the Christian life to be like that!

Saint Peter's Day

RomeIn his rich Papal vestments, Pope John passes by during the Saint Peter's Day celebration in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. Although only in Rome for a few days, it fascinated me to see the richly ornate Basilica of St. Peter during the magnificent Saint Peter's Day celebrations. People massed in these cloisters aglow with lights. Suddenly the organ struck up, and Pope John Paul II appeared, carried high above the crowds on his papal throne or "sedia gestatoria" in his rich Papal vestments. When this massive man passed by, I was close enough to see the expression on his face. He seemed to be thinking to himself, "This is not where I belong, but if it means anything to you, then I'm willing to go through with it!" His humility and sense of responsibility peeped out from under his vestments.


St Peters RomeSome people have asked me whether the blessing of the Bishop of Rome is acceptable or not. I have always believed in keeping my heart open to God for help from every source. Canterbury will always be the center for me, but I still made sure I knelt at several Saint Peter's marble altars to remember in prayer my friends and co-workers far away.

Back to Britain

Ornate Brass CrossThe blessings of my brief holiday were soon over. My plane took off from Rome in the early afternoon. In three short hours, I was looking down on England. The lush countryside resembled a beautiful green carpet in marked contrast to Italy's dusty matted brown from the air. Later, bogged down in the rush hour congestion on the way to the railway station in Central London, I realized that my train to Chester had already gone. When I eventually arrived there, it was the following morning's and too late to find anywhere to stay.

"Meeting Wilson Carlile"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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