Susanna Wesley - Mother of Methodism
by Ronald M. Higashi
It is only fitting that on Mother's Day, we honor and remember Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism.
Susanna Annesley Wesley was the youngest of twenty-five children born to the family of Dr. Samuel Annesley, a well known minister of the time. Susanna Wesley and her husband Samuel, also a minister, had nineteen children in the first nineteen years of marriage. Ten lived past infancy.
Susanna Wesley was an extraordinary woman devoted to God and her family. Her faith in God allowed the family to survive and face the grief, hardship, and poverty that filled their lives. Her conquering of adversity is still a great inspiration to us all today.
Susanna Wesley drew her inner strength from her belief in God. She took it beyond the church and integrated it into her daily family life.
Her husband, Samuel Wesley, was a controversial religious and political figure of the time. The Wesley family was subject to much ridicule and in some instances the target of malicious acts because they were known as "dissenters" – people who disagreed with the King's and the church's politics and failure to care for those in need. Their children were mocked, the family crops destroyed, and it was suspected that the rectory was burned due to his beliefs. Samuel himself was committed to "Debtor's Prison" for a period of time by a parishioner demanding payment.
During these the very harshest of times, Susanna was committed to caring for her family the best way possible. Although resources were very limited, she started a daily school for her children. She said her primary purpose was the spiritual development of her children and "the saving of their souls." Academic education was important but never took priority over instruction in God's Word. "Each day before class, she set aside an hour to herself for Scripture reading and prayer, and then led them all in singing psalms."
As a caring mother, she set aside a "special time" with each of her children. Those were "bonding" times when each child was free to discuss whatever they wanted and she would offer her "motherly advice and consul." These weekly private appointments for encouragement could be called "quality time" today. She developed faith, fear of God, and resiliency in each child.
One historical scholar described the Wesley children as "a cluster of bright, vehement, argumentative boys and girls, living by a clean and high code, and on the plainest fare; but drilled to soft tones, to pretty formal courtesies; with learning as an ideal, duty as an atmosphere and fear of God as law."
This bond and sense of faith Susanna established with each of her children empowered John and Charles Wesley to go forth in confidence, their character strengthened by their mother.
Samuel Wesley, her husband, wrote this to his children, "With deep admiration, you know what you owe to one of the best of mothers…above all (for) the wholesome and sweet motherly advice and counsel which she has often given you to fear God…"
So profound was the influence of Susanna Wesley upon her son, John Wesley, that she has been called "The Mother of Methodism".
Ronald M. Higashi is the Executive Director of the Susannah Wesley Community Center in Honolulu, Hawaii
Date posted: May 11, 2007