An invitation of friends to assemble at the house of a poor man to drink ale, and thus to raise alms for his relief.
“The ordinary amusements in country parishes (in 1632) were church-ales. clerk-ales, and bid-ales, . . . consisting of drinking and sports, particularly dancing.” —T. V. Short, D. D.: History of the Church of England, p. 392.
“Denham, in 1634, issued an order in the western circuit to put an end to the disorders attending church-ales, bid-ales, clerk-ales, and the like.” —Howitt: History of England (Charles I., chap. iii. p. 159).
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894