SUSANNA WESLEY

It is said that behind every good man is a good woman! That was certainly the case with John Wesley. However, in his case the lady in question was his mother, Susanna. She was the 25th child of twenty five born to Samuel Annesley and his wife Mary on 20th January l669, in Spitalfields in London. Her father was a Dissenter or Nonconformist, a Puritan who had refused to join the restored Church of England at the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. She was an intelligent child, received a good education and learned from the many scholastic visitors to her fatherís house. One of which Samuel Wesley, she was later to marry. At the age of 12 or 13 she took the decision to leave her fatherís church and she joined the Church of England.

Susanna and Samuel Wesley married on 11th November 1688, and they had nineteen children, losing nine of them in infancy. Samuel became the Vicar of Epworth in North Lincolnshire. Their life together was not without difficulties. They fell out over the question of royal politics. Although both of them were Tories, Samuel supported William III; Susanna, the deposed king, James II. This argument brought about a separation, leaving Susanna to manage her growing family alone. Throughout their married life they were short of money and on two occasions Samuel was imprisoned for debt. Samuel was not overly popular as a pastor and the family suffered damage to property and livestock by some of the locals. On February 9th 1709, the rectory burned down in a serious fire which almost took the life of their son John. He was rescued by a neighbour and he saw his deliverance as Godís work. He would refer to himself as "a brand snatched from the burning".

Susanna was very concerned about her childrenís education. She adopted a regime which she felt would help each child learn, mature and develop Christian character. Their formal education began the day after their fifth birthday, when they would be taught the alphabet. They all studied Latin and Greek; received a classical education, with their mother spending time with them individually, and by all accounts they were lively and intelligent.

In 1711 when Samuel was away, he left behind a Mr Inman as a replacement minister. He was not at all popular and church attendance dwindled. Susanna began to organise evening gatherings for her family where they sang hymns, prayed and Susanna would read a sermon from her husbandís library. Soon word spread and these gatherings extended to neighbours and beyond. She had written to Samuel to explain what she was doing, but Mr Inman had also written complaining about Susannaís activities causing Samuel to suggest to his wife that she discontinue these services, or perhaps she find someone else to read the sermons. She steadfastly refused on both counts!

Towards the end of his life Samuel continued to work on his ĎMagnum Opusí, a dissertation on the Book of Job, which he hoped would assure his family financial security, but sadly this was not to be the case. He died on April 5th 1735 and once John had paid off his debts, Susanna was left with very little. She went to live with a daughter and then in 1740 she moved to London to the centre of Johnís ministry, when by now the Methodist Church was flourishing. Susanna ended her days in peace and without the financial worries that had dogged her life. She died on July 23rd 1742.

Undoubtedly, it was their motherís influence that had shaped both the lives and work of John and Charles Wesley. Susanna wrote many letters, meditations, scriptural commentaries and work for her childrenís education. She was a devout and very loving mother and she nurtured her children in the Christian faith. Not only was she mother to some remarkable scholars in her sons, she was indeed mother to a church.

Barbara Hothersall