As interviewed by Christine Taylor*
*The interview is made up but the facts are real. Susanna Wesley was the mother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and his brother Charles Wesley, who wrote many of the great hymns of the church.
Christine Taylor (CT): Mrs. Wesley, when and where were you born?
Susanna Wesley (SW) I was born in the 20th of January in the year of our Lord 1669 in England.
CT: What was your occupation?
SW: Some people have referred to my task as the “Mother of Methodism” but I prefer to think of myself as the mother of 19 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood and all of whom made good, particularly young John and Charles. My other nine are blessed in heaven.
CT: Were you a member of the Methodist Church?
SW: Oh dear girl, no. I was a lifelong member of the Church of England; Methodism would not truly exist as such in my time.
CT: Of course. May I ask who your parents were?
SW: My father was Dr. Samuel Annesley, a minister, and my mother was Mary White.
CT: Did you come from a large family?
SW: I should say! I was the youngest of twenty-five children. You may inform your readers that this is not a typo or however you call it. That is the number twenty-five as in a quarter of one hundred.
CT: You were married of course.
SW: Yes, I wed Samuel Wesley on November 11 1688. Samuel was 26 and I was 19. We soon moved to Epworth near Lincoln where my husband pastored a church. We were there for 40 years.
CT: May I ask if it was a happy marriage?
SW: You may ask… I will say that my husband was a minister and was a very exacting man in his theology. He left the children and me for an entire year over a small argument we had on a minor doctrinal point. I wrote to him – wait, here it is – [Mrs. Wesley unfolds a yellowing letter and reads from it.]
“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.”
[She puts the letter down.] And there it is.
CT: Very methodical and obviously it worked as your husband returned. However, I believe that the Reverend Wesley spent some time in debtor’s prison? I apologize if I am bringing up an unhappy memory.
SW: The truth is what it is. Samuel spent two terms in debtor’s prison, which seems to me to make utterly no sense at all, for how can a man earn money to pay his bills while he is in prison? Still by the grace of God we managed. A worse tragedy was the fact that our home burned down. Twice. With 10 active children in the household plus servants I suppose it is a wonder that it did not happen more often. John was only five years old and almost died in the second and worse fire. To dear neighbors rescued him from a second story window by dint of one man standing on the other’s shoulders. Think of that, no John Wesley, no Methodism. More than once I have suspected Satan in the fires, and have always been certain of God’s gracious rescue.
CT: The second fire split the family up, did it not?
SW: For a time. The local congregation agreed to rebuild the rectory for us but we had nowhere to stay with all ten children, so we had to place them about. I was rather horrified at the poor teaching that the children received. When we were all together I gave the children lessons when they turned five. Their classes lasted for six hours a day and they were each expected to learn the entire alphabet upon the first day. All of my children save two did so and I rather thought they were backwards.
CT: In a time when sons were educated but daughters might not be, I believe that you taught your girls as well.
SW: I certainly did. I educated each alike, they all learnt Latin and Greek and were well tutored in the classical studies. Why should I raise dunderheads whether they are girls or boys?
CT: At one time did you preach a series of sermons?
SW: Oh my no! I merely taught my own family during Sunday afternoon and a few guests happened by. Samuel was in London defending a fellow minister against charges of heresy. The substitute minister he sent apparently only knew how to preach about repaying debts. Truly. Every sermon. For months. Of course we attended loyally but I decided to assemble my own children Sunday afternoon for family services. We would sing a psalm and then I would read a sermon from either my husband’s or father’s sermon files followed by another psalm. People began dropping by and at its largest point two hundred people attended our family gathering. It was all quite informal.
CT: You prayed and studied the Bible often I believe.
SW: As much and as often as I could, which was not as often as I would have liked. Did I mention ten children? But our fair Lord knows what He is doing. If I had not had my children I would have studied all the day and perhaps turned terribly priggish. I did turn out some commentaries for my own usage, which by the grace of God my children found somewhat helpful.
CT: How in the world did you find any quiet time at all?
SW: When I was in the midst of crashing and chaos and I needed to speak seriously to God, then I would stand up in the middle of the room and throw my apron over my head. There I would stand, and pray, and all around me grew the most terrific silence.
CT: That is quite a technique!
SW: It worked for me. It was perhaps the only spontaneous action I could afford to take, for raising ten children largely on my own required careful methodical actions.
CT: Which I believe your sons took after in their own ministerial careers?
SW: Indeed. All three of our sons earned M.A.s from Oxford and were ordained in the Church of England. John and Charles of course went out by the grace of God to evangelize the whole world as far as they were able, but I am proud of all of my fine children.
CT: Thank you so much Mrs. Wesley.
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