Susanna Wesley Defends Her Kitchen Ministry

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

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

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

Susanna Wesley Raises Children to Change the World

Susanna Wesley was born Susanna Annesley, the youngest of 25 children, to a nonconformist minister in London, in January 1669. At age 13 she forsook her father’s nonconformist views because she did not believe in dissent, and became part of the Church of England. At about the same time Susanna met the man who would become her husband. Samuel Wesley changed his surname from Westley when he too left the nonconformist ranks and returned to the Church of England. The couple met at the wedding of Susanna’s older sister, Elizabeth.

After Samuel graduated from Oxford in 1688 he was ordained as a Church of England minister and he promptly married Susanna, then 19 years old (he was 26).

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Samuel had a problem with money and spent his life in debt, even when he moved to Epworth and received a good salary. There he turned his hand at farming and proved so ineffective that he increased his debts rather than reduce them. In later years Samuel was even thrown into debtor’s prison, but was rescued by Susanna’s appeals to the Archbishop of York.

For the first nineteen years of married life Susanna averaged one baby per year, totalling 19 with the birth of baby Kezia. Eight of her children died in infancy and a daughter was permanently crippled due to a maid’s accident.

To add to Susanna’s challenges, apart from the children, the debts, a fire that destroyed their home, and her strained health, her husband abandoned her for six months over her refusal to say “Amen” when he prayed a blessing on King William III, William of Orange, who Susanna thought to be an illegitimate pretender to the throne.

Her last two sons, John – born in 1703, and Charles – born four years later, became the two of the most famous preachers of English history.

In 1709 the family endured its second inferno when the rectory in which the family lived caught fire. Susanna heroically saved the lives of her two infant sons, John and Charles. John later referred to himself as “a brand picked out of the fire”.

Susanna’s educational methods were clearly defined, strict and effective. She was also a devoted mother, intent on giving personal time to each of her children, each day. She was particularly intent on teaching her children spiritual truths, for which John and Charles Wesley’s later ministries owe a great debt.

Among the strictures imposed by this disciplinarian mother, the children were taught to cry softly, to eat what they were given, and never to raise their voices or be noisy at play. Susanna used physical punishment, but her children could avoid it if they confessed their faults.

Her children valued her care as a mother and it is said that when John was only seven years old he advised that he would never marry “because I could never find such a woman as my father had”.

When Samuel hired a curate to preach while he was away, Susanna found the sermons so unsatisfactory that she began the practice of reading sermons to her family on a Sunday afternoon. In time she had up to 200 people coming to hear her read, with Samuel’s disapproval.

Susanna spent her life with ministers. She was first a minister’s daughter. Then she married a preacher. And she then raised children who became outstanding preachers.

Susanna’s husband, Samuel, died in Epworth, where he had pastored for 38 years, on April 25, 1735 at the age of 72. Susanna lived with various of her children and survived Samuel by seven years, dying on July 23, 1742.

It is interesting to note Susanna’s strength of personal resolve. Her father had stood for his right to believe a dissenting principle, in the face of the organised church. His daughter caught that right to hold personal conviction in the face of opposition.

She chose her own religious direction at age 13, contrary to her father. She resisted her husband’s demand that she honour a King who she could not respect. She persisted in her personal piety and faith despite all challenges. And she raised sons who resisted the taunts of fellow students when they set up their own religious club on campus.

Susanna’s life was hard, with the burden of a large family and her husband’s debts. Yet her faith in God and faithfulness to God, especially in her vocation as mother, educator and spiritual instructor to her children, paid dividends for which the world is thankful. None of the failings of those around her caused her to fail in her own life purpose.

Oh that there were many more like her!

For more information on Susanna Wesley see the post: http://chrisfieldblog.com/ministry/church-history/susanna-wesley-ministrysusanna-wesley-ministry

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

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