After the best part of a century of ministry across the nation, 2024 will mark the final year of the Church Army in Australia.

“In recent years the only ministry being undertaken by the Church Amy in Australia has been through Kihilla retreat and conference centre,” says Captain Tim Scheuer. “Prior to this, numerous attempts had been made to revitalise Church Army’s ministry. However, it became obvious that God’s blessing was not on these efforts and so the board made the decision to formally wind up the ministry.” 

Captain Scheuer, who has served with Church Army for almost 40 years and was its national director from 2003-2010, says “It’s hard to let something go that has been so integral to my sense of calling and identity. For years I thought I’d die as a Church Army officer. However, it’s important to recognise seasons, and to know that God’s gifting and calling isn’t dependent on a specific organisation”.

Church Army began in London in 1882 through the ministry of Wilson Carlile, who sought to bring the good news of Jesus to those who normally wouldn’t darken the door of a church.

The organisation’s history tells that Mr Carlile hosted weeknight gatherings “for the rough and rowdy lads of the district, using comical lantern shows and music to attract and entertain them followed by a devotional message and an opportunity 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”. 

Above: Seaside mission in the 1930s

He found some of the men and women who had turned to Jesus were more effective at reaching the people than he was, and this was the beginning of the Church Army.

The organisation officially began in Australia in 1934, at a meeting hosted by the Archbishop of Sydney, Howard Mowll. However, a team of UK officers had been running a mission for three years before that, preaching the gospel in every state and territory – in the open air, in parishes, among farm workers and even door to door. Thousands of people had come to faith during this time, so there was support for the establishment of Church Army Australia from every bishop in the country. 

First Nations men and women are among those who have served with CA Australia, including the nation’s first Indigenous bishop, Arthur Malcolm (below), who was commissioned as an evangelist in 1959 and had a particular ministry to his local people of Yarrabah as well as Palm Island. 

In addition, the church at Berkeley Life Centre south of Wollongong, supported by Evangelism & New Churches, began in 2006 as a mission centre under the auspices of Church Army Australia when its minister, the Rev Wayne Pickford, was commissioned as a Church Army captain. A mission team of people from the parishes of Dapto and Shellharbour City Centre doorknocked regularly to share the hope of the gospel with locals. 

Says Mr Pickford: “Normally you did commissioning services in a church building [with] choirs. We had a wrestling ring out the front here (see feature photo), we had a jumping castle, we had a band. That was sort of the sign that this church is going to be a little different than the other churches! 

It’s not a short-term fix, because one of the blokes who comes to our church, he was visited for 4½ years every Thursday until he came to church. Christians have to be around non-Christians long enough to do that sort of stuff.”

The organisation’s chairman, former Sydney rector the Rev Tom Melbourne, adds: “We want to praise God for all he has done through the ministry of Church Army Australia across 90 years. Only in glory will we truly be able to see the eternal impact that Church Army’s officers have had as they have shared the gospel across Australia. 

“While it is of course sad to recognise that CA Australia has run its course, and so to this year formally wind up the ministry, we also want to rejoice that this was a movement God used to do great good.”

A thanksgiving service was held on May 25 at Kihilla Christian Centre in Lawson, marking the formal end of Church Army Australia’s ministry. You can email church army for a video link.