Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, wrote to her husband in defence of her ministry! It was February 25, 1712. John Wesley was only 9 years old at this time and it was 30 years before Susanna’s death.
When Susanna’s husband, the Rev Samuel Wesley, was absent, attending Convocation in London, his good wife decided to invite the parishioners to the Epworth rectory for instruction and prayer.
The rectory had been destroyed by fire three years earlier and not completely rebuilt. The Wesley’s were poor all their lives, keen to serve the Lord rather than acquire wordly comforts.
Susanna already had her husband’s blessing to read sermons and pray with her own children on Sunday afternoons, but then she realised that the whole congregation needed more spiritual input too. Some were hungry to join in her family time, and so she allowed them to come.
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Initially there were about 30 people attending to hear her devotional readings, and Samuel was delighted with that outcome.
Samuel Wesley is remembered as a wonderful man. He is described as “a learned man, a comprehensive thinker, a racy writer and speaker, a brave worker, a manly soul, hasty, impetuous, hot, but loving, liberal, and true”.
Susanna Wesley was described by her husband as “the best of mothers”. Samuel wrote to his children telling them to honour “the wholesome and sweet motherly advice and counsel which she has often given you to fear God”.
Susanna gave each of her children a specific day and time when she would be available exclusively for them.
Trouble erupted after a year of this public ministry in the rectory kitchen, due to the arrival of a new curate. (A curate is a minister in training who assists a minister as part of his final preparation for leading a parish himself.)
Visits to the kitchen in the rectory at Epworth had become extremely popular and this seemed to be the cause of the problem. Susanna did this public ministry, albeit in her own home, without asking the Bishop’s permission! And women did not do such things in the 18th century!
The curate, Rev Inman, wrote a letter to Samuel complaining of these gatherings. After all, his morning services were far outnumbered by the 200(!) who gathered to meet in Susanna’s kitchen. “These are Susanna’s figures – and she was never accurate!” (Susanna, by R.L. Harmon, page 78). Her practice was to read a sermon selected from her husband’s library shelves.
Inman referred to the gathering in offensive terms, as “a pestiferous gathering of Dissenters”.
Samuel wrote to Susanna from London to restrain her abounding ministry to the parishioners. It seems, however, that he wrote to rebuke her only in deference to the authority of his superiors. It also seems that he was happy for her resolute reply, sufficient to answer the Bishop and allow her to continue her ministry.
Susanna’s reply reveals something of what he had written, and the wisdom of this incomparable lady of the rectory, and the inspiration she was to her future evangelist sons.
Susanna pointed out the great effectiveness of the meetings on life in the parish. “It is plain, in fact, that this one thing has brought more people to church than ever anything did in so short a time. We used not to have above twenty or twenty-five at evening service, whereas we have now between two and three hundred, which are more than ever came before to hear Inman in the morning”.
After explaining that “the salvation of souls” might be sought, not only in the pulpit but in “common conversation” and that she did not think there was “one man among them who could read a sermon without spelling a good part of it” and how the crowd often “begged” her to continue, she closed with this “piece-de-resistance”…
“If you do, after all, think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send me your positive command, in such full and express terms, as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity of doing good, when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Samuel relented … and the meetings continued!
Another post on Susanna Wesley can be found at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/ministry/church-history/susanna-wesley-raises-children
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com