Susanna Wesley was born on January 20, 1669. She never preached a sermon, published a book, or founded a church, yet Susanna Wesley is known as the Mother of Methodism. The example of faith and religious reverence she set for her children John and Charles inspired them to become powerful spiritual leaders, and to launch the Methodist movement.
(Voice of the Rev. Alfred T. Day III, General Commission on Archives and History) “Susanna Wesley is the mother of one of church history’s greatest dynamic duos. John and Charles are their mother’s sons. She is the person who is responsible for their education and spiritual formation.”
United Methodist historians say the fathers of the Methodist movement owe much of their success to their mother and the foundation built in their childhood home.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day III, General Commission on Archives and History: “She had a spreadsheet before there were spreadsheets. She had an incredible organizational schedule for their dressing and changing clothes.”
Born in 1669, Susanna Wesley was the youngest of 25. At age 19, she married Church of England pastor Samuel Wesley and bore 19 children. Managing a home took great planning but she made time to nurture each child.
Dale Patterson, General Commission on Archives and History: “She would mark out at least an hour, and so it might well be that Tuesday at 3 was a time that was exclusively devoted to John, let’s say. Now that doesn’t mean she ignored him the rest of the week. But that was their time to sit down and be together. She did that with all of her children.”
Susanna led by example. Her life and faith journey shaped Methodism in ways we see today.
The Rev. Alfred Day: “We see in her and in her sons this tension between Puritan Evangelicalism and Church of England prayer book order, spirituality and sacramentalism. And I think we Methodists are best when we are both/and and not either/or.”
Long before women were ordained, Susanna would sometimes gather friends around the kitchen table and lead prayers when her preacher husband was away. She kept the parish going in his absence.
Dale Patterson: “That was actually pretty radical. Now today, a family devotion with friends we wouldn’t think anything about it. In the early 18th century? And her argument was there was no one else to read. It needed to be done for the good of the people. I’ll do it.”
Susanna also planted the unconventional idea of letting lay people serve as local preachers.
Dale Patterson: “When John started traveling the circuit and preaching, he was late. And he shows up and a gentleman that he knew, a layman, was filling in for him. Well, he was aghast. A layman kind of almost preaching. Well, you know who told him to take another look? His mother. He listened and realized this guy’s doing a good thing. That changed the character of our Methodist revival.”
The Rev. Alfred Day: “Susanna Wesley is a major difference maker. And the differences that she made have lived on from the history of 17th and 18th century well into the present moment because of the sons that she raised.”
Historians from the General Commission on Archives and History offer this information about Susanna Wesley.
You can learn more about church history by visiting the website for the Commission on Archives and History. And be sure to check out the history section on UMC.org to find other features like this.
This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.
This video was first posted on April 8, 2016.