Thought for the Month.
Three hundred and fifty years ago, on 20 January 1669, the 25th child of a dissenting clergyman and his wife was born and named Susanna. She seems to have grown into a young woman of spirit and definite opinions which stood her in good stead as she married a young minister at the age of nineteen. Susanna and Reverend Samuel Wesley had 19 children, nine of whom died as infants.
Susanna experienced many hardships throughout her life. Samuel Wesley spent time in jail twice due to his poor financial abilities, and the lack of money was a continual struggle for Susanna. Their house was burned down twice; during one of the fires, her son, John, nearly died and had to be rescued from the second storey window. To her absent husband, Susanna Wesley wrote:
“I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children….”
Susanna taught the children and ran the parish while her husband was in debtors’ jail. Over two hundred people regularly attended her unofficial Sunday afternoon services.
Two of her sons, of course, were John and Charles Wesley so Susanna must have been a great teacher and influence on them. Perhaps it is because of Susanna’s influence that women have always played an important role in the Methodist church. She herself came to faith at the communion rail and described Holy Communion as a “converting ordinance”: still an important part of our theology today.
Even after conference, the highest authority in British Methodism, outlawed women preaching in the 19th century, we still somehow managed it!
The Methodist lay preacher Dinah Morris in George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede of 1859 was modelled on Eliot’s aunt Elizabeth Evans. The description of her standing on the back of a wagon preaching to the villagers is one of my favourite passages of literature.
Susanna died in London at the ripe old age (for those days) of 73. She is buried in the non-conformist cemetery at Bunhill Fields, near to the graves of John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Daniel Defoe and William Blake.
On the 350th anniversary of Susanna’s birth, I found myself celebrating communion with my Anglican colleague Jane in Wenhaston. We agreed that the Mother of Methodism might rather have approved.
Reverend Louise Morrissey