Husband leaves town - house church flourishes

If you were raised in the English-speaking world you would likely have sang or heard a song written by a man from this group. If you read Treasure Island - the author was also a member. (If it was an illustrated edition, you likely were unable to put it down.)

This is a story of the Mother and Father of the Wesley's. John and Charles were the famous sons. Their Mother is Susanna.

       Source: Arthur Dicken Thomas, Jr. via

As a mother and the wife of an Anglican rector, Susanna exercised a strong pastoral role in her home. To help her children learn the faith, she wrote a detailed and lengthy exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. She started “the custom of singing psalms at beginning and leaving school, morning and evening.” She had her older children instruct the younger children in Bible study and prayers before breakfast and in the evening. Every evening she provided an hour or so to discuss with each of her sons and daughters their “principal concerns,” providing them her spiritual direction.

In 1712 Susanna wrote her husband of her pastoral concerns for his parishioners: 

At last it came into my mind, though I am not a man, nor a minister of the gospel, and so cannot be engaged in such a worthy employment ....yet... I might do somewhat more than I do...I might pray more for the people, and speak with more warmth to those with whom I have an opportunity of conversing.

A more pronounced pastoral dimension of ministry developed when Samuel was away at the Convocation of the Church of England in London for several months at a time. Susanna for some time had regularly gathered her household, including the children and servants, to sing psalms and listen to printed sermons, after which she would read the service for Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. During the winter of 1710-1711 some of the Wesleys’ neighbors joined in these times as well. She wrote that one local boy

...told his parents; they first desired to be admitted. Then others who heard of it begged leave also [requested admittance]. So our company increased to about thirty...

In his absence, Samuel paid curates (assistants) to perform his priestly duties. In the winter of 1711-1712, an ineffective curate was in charge, and people began to flock to Susanna’s kitchen prayer meeting. Samuel’s associate, Godfrey Inman, wrote to him relaying the fact that his wife was drawing more townspeople to the Sunday night meetings in her home than were coming to the services which Godfrey led in church on Sunday morning.

Susanna explained in a letter to her husband: 

With those few neighbours who then came to me I discoursed more freely and affectionately than before; I chose the best and most awakening sermons we had, and I spent more time with them in such exercises....

Since this, our company has increased every night; for I dare deny none who ask admittance. Last Sunday I believe we had above two hundred, and many went away for want of room. Although not an ordained priest, Susanna was offering the parishioners a complete Anglican service by reading prayers and a sermon of her husband. When her husband wrote her voicing the objections of Inman,

Susanna wrote back to him: 

If you do, after all, think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience: but send me your positive command, in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity of doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In response to this letter, Samuel allowed his wife’s meetings to continue until his return home. Susanna was not trying to become a priest, rather she was attempting to engage in the evangelism of her neighbors at a time when families who seldom went to church were willing to attend her home services. 

Only 20 or 25 would attend the curate’s service. But as many as three hundred came to her kitchen meetings. The kitchen meetings came to an end when her husband returned to resume his duties as rector of the parish. Her reasons for creating a house meeting were the salvation of souls, her care of her children’s spiritual development, and a desire to observe the Sabbath strictly.

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