A mother to emulate – Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley (20 January 1669 – 23 July 1742), born Susanna Annesley, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Annesley and Mary White, and the mother of John and Charles Wesley.

“…although she never preached a sermon or published a book or founded a church, (she) is known as the Mother of Methodism. Why? Because two of her sons, John Wesley and Charles Wesley, as children consciously or unconsciously will, applied the example and teachings and circumstances of their home life.”

Family

Susanna Wesley was the 25th of 25 children. Her father, Dr. Samuel Annesley, was a dissenter of the established church of England. At the age of 13, Susanna stopped attending her father’s church and joined the official Church of England.

She and Samuel Wesley were married on 11 November 1688. Samuel was 26 and Susanna was 19.

Susanna and Samuel Wesley had 19 children. Nine of her children died as infants. Four of the children who died were twins. A maid accidentally smothered one child. At her death, only eight of her children were still alive.

Personal life notes

Susanna experienced many hardships throughout her life. Her husband left her and the children for over a year because of a minor dispute.

To her absent husband, Susannah 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; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.

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. She was the primary source of her children’s education.

After the second fire, Susanna was forced to place her children into different homes for nearly two years while the rectory was rebuilt. During this time, the Wesley children lived under the rules of the homes they lived in. Susanna was mortified that her children began to use improper speech and play more than study.

“Under no circumstances were the children permitted to have any lessons until they had reached their fifth year, but the day after their fifth birthday their formal education began. They attended classes for six hours and on the very first day they were supposed to learn the whole of the alphabet. All her children except two managed this feat, and these seemed to Susanna to be very backward.”[3] “The children got a good education. Daughters included, they all learnt Latin and Greek and were well tutored in the classical studies that were traditional in England at that time.”

During a time when her husband was in London, defending a friend against charges of heresy, he had appointed a locum to bring the message. The man’s sermons revolved solely around repaying debts. The lack of diverse spiritual teaching caused Susanna to assemble her children Sunday afternoon for family services. They would sing a psalm and then Susanna would read a sermon from either her husband’s or father’s sermon file followed by another psalm. The local people began to ask if they could attend. At one point there were over two hundred people who would attend Susanna’s Sunday afternoon service while the Sunday morning service dwindled to nearly nothing.

Wesley practised daily devotions throughout her life, but, shortly before her death, she wrote to her son Charles, admitting that she had struggled with doubt throughout her life and only now had finally found peace in her faith.

Her husband Samuel spent his whole life and all of the family’s finances on his exegetical work of the Book of Job. However, his work was not remembered and had little impact on his family other than as a hardship. In contrast Susanna wrote several pieces that would be fundamental in the education of their children. “In addition to letters, Susanna Wesley wrote meditations and scriptural commentaries for her own use. She wrote extended commentaries on the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments. Alas many of these were lost in the rectory fire, but many survive. The most accessible means to her writings is Charles Wallace’s excellent and important Susanna Wesley, Her Collected Writings.”

Susanna was buried at Bunhill Fields in London.

An interesting fact about the strength and faith of Susanna from Beverly Whitaker. „Viewpoint: Susanna Wesley.” Kansas City, Missouri, 1998 as summarized on Internet web page: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~gentutor/susanna.html quoted from this book: Dallimore, Arnold A. Susanna Wesley. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993.

Apparently, Susanna’s husband left her because she did not say Amen to one of his prayers for the reigning monarch at the time- King William. Since many clergymen were expelled for their lack of support for the King, her husband Samuel possibly „found” Susanna’s opinion (through her refusal to say Amen at the end of the prayer) a „possible threat to his own position” as clergy. The hardest part to understand is that her husband Samuel left her at a time when she was pregnant and therefore he was not there for the birth of his 14th daughter, Anne. Samuel did return after the death of King William. By this time 6 months had passed. (The source used for this information is [Source: a letter from Susanna to the Lady Yarlborough, March 7, 1701-2, as quoted by Arnold A. Dallimore: Susanna Wesley. You can learn/read more about Susanna Wesley  at the following link  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~gentutor/susanna.html 

You can read an account of John Wesley, Susanna’s 15th of 19 children here – http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/Global-Worship-and-Spiritual-Growth/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley


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