Sister Elsie Thrush CA

06 February 2015

Church Army worker: Sister Elsie Thrush CA, who led a long life of Christian devotion, witness, and compassion

Church Army worker: Sister Elsie Thrush CA, who led a long life of Christian devotion, witness, and compassion

Mark Russell writes:

SISTER ELSIE Thrush CA, who died on 20 December, aged 103, was the Church Army's oldest member. It was one of the most inspiring days of my life when, as its chief executive, I first met her in 2009.

Elsie joined in 1931, and entered the Church Army Women's Department, was commissioned as an evangelist in 1933 by the founder himself, Wilson Carlile, and worked with his sister, Marie.

Her early ministry was in a girls' home. Elsie told me about her work with children orphaned by the First World War, and with young unmarried women who were pregnant and had often been thrown out on the street by their parents. Young people who found themselves alone and frightened knew they had a friend in Elsie.

In 1936, she moved to the Church Army's Mission Caravans, touring the country to evangelise in town after town, from Cornwall to Carlisle. She did this for seven years, and became the Officer in Charge of the caravans. She told me how they would go into a community, get to know people, and find new ways to spread the gospel.

The Church Army provided for the Forces overseas in the Second World War. From 1943, Elsie was stationed in Morocco, and on the Rimini coast in Italy. She ran drop-in centres for the soldiers, many of whom were just young boys really, in her hula-hula hut. These were youth clubs to give them some laughter, but also to help them with all that they were seeing and hearing.

Between 1946 and 1948, Elsie served as a Parish Evangelist at St Luke's, Old Street, in London. Then she moved to the Church Army Training College, Maiden Earleigh, outside Reading. Many of our retired evangelists speak very fondly of Elsie's time on the staff. Sister Janet Rourke, who was Assistant Chief Secretary, told me that Elsie had been the college's "mum": loving, caring, gentle, and generous. "She looked after me when I was sick."

Sister Irene Lockett was a wee girl from rural Northern Ireland who had moved to Reading to train as a CA evangelist. Her mother was unhappy at losing her daughter to England, and felt that Irene was throwing her life away. Elsie's caring and gentle character gave Irene love and encouragement.

When Irene's mother came to London for her daughter's commissioning in 1951, Elsie went out of her way to befriend her, and Irene's mother became a Christian at the commissioning.

Sister Elizabeth McNeice told me that, for many of the young women in the college, Elsie was someone they admired and looked up to: she overflowed with the love of Jesus, and was totally committed to living for him.

Elsie left the college in 1956, and joined the Prisons Welfare team; she retired from active Church Army ministry in 1975.

Elsie lived for Jesus, and for the Church Army. She loved both. Church Army Sisters wear two little swords on their lapels, and most wear them facing downwards; but Elsie told me that she always wore hers facing upwards to remind her of our spiritual battle - against sin, poverty, and loneliness.

She told me about the walks on Founder's Day, from Church Army headquarters in Bryanston Street, London, all the way to St Paul's Cathedral, and that she had joined to help people to know that Jesus loved them.

In her application form in 1930, aged 18, she explained why she wanted to join the CA: "I am called to Christian work because after my conversion I felt restless, and wanted others to know of His love, and after much prayer I feel sure God is calling me to work for him."

We shall miss her immensely, and her enthusiasm, energy, compassion, gentle spirit, humour, positive attitude, and deep prayerful faith. She was a blessing to us all, and our last living link to our founder, Wilson Carlile.

Above all, she showed us how to live well, how to live a life following Jesus and serving others. As the Bishop of Kilmore put it, Elsie was still worrying the devil in her old age. Her legacy and memory will live on. The whole Church Army family salutes her memory.

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