Church history unfolding that couldn’t have happened without Susanna

John Wesley
John Wesley

Wednesday’s page about Mrs Susanna Wesley was meant to be a ‘grand finale’ - for the time being at least - to Eva Baxter’s ongoing account of the amazing woman who brought up John and Charles Wesley.

But Wednesday’s proposed conclusion to Eva’s gripping tale about the ‘mother of Methodism’ attracted an immediate flurry of readers’ observations and comments - including breaking news of a historic event in Ireland’s church history that’s happening tomorrow in Dublin.

But first, more about Susanna.

“Good piece on Ma Wesley,” was the endearing comment from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous, continuing “I think I’m correct but John Wesley himself didn’t start the Methodist church - he lived and died an Anglican.”

Whilst not for one moment doubting the commentator (who has more than a few qualifications in history and theology) Roamer turned to a reference book, which stated unequivocally - “Throughout his life John Wesley remained within the established Anglican Church, insisting that the Methodist movement lay well within the Anglican tradition.”

Eva Baxter recounted that John’s father Samuel was an Anglican clergyman, and that John and his brother Charles established the Holy Club in Cambridge University, a gathering of religious students that was the embryonic Methodist church.

But John himself became a deacon in the Church of England. Later, ordained as an Anglican priest, he was rather too vocal about ‘ordinary people’ being excluded from the church. Often barred from the pulpit for his strong opinions, he started preaching in fields, in market places and on the streets - an early characteristic of Methodism.

He preached some 40,000 sermons and travelled 250,000 miles during his lifetime, and once said “I look upon the whole world as my parish.”

With some 70 million Methodists around the world today - ‘mother of Methodism’ Susanna Wesley has an infinitely larger family than the 19 children she reared under such intense family pressures and tribulations.

“What a wonderful account of Susanna Wesley’s life, doing her the full justice that she deserves,” a reader e-mailed, adding “Susanna and Samuel had a little Williamite War of their own! She was obviously quite a feminist, as well as being an able teacher.”

Several readers noted that “Susanna wouldn’t say ‘amen’ when her husband prayed for King William III!” and suggested that her views about King Billy would slot quite comfortably into Northern Ireland’s political scenario today!

“A great yarn about Susanna Wesley,” hailed another reader “an early supporter of women’s rights and what an eventful life.”

Limavady reader Christopher Wilson, a life-long Methodist and former local preacher, told me he thoroughly enjoyed Eva Baxter’s articles and added an intriguing snippet of information to the history of the church’s introduction to Ireland.

“Methodist preachers - in the main Irish soldiers returning from the European wars who had come under the influence of the soldier preachers in the army - started to preach in their own parts of Ireland. Methodist groups were already in existence in Ireland when Charles and John made their first visit to Ireland. But did John Wesley start Methodism? Yes, he did. But he saw it as a holiness movement within the Church of England. He remained a Church of England clergyman, although he opened a number of Methodist meeting houses such as The Foundry in London, the New Rooms in Bristol, Wesley Chapel, City Road, London (now known as The Mother Church of Methodism) and many others.”

Christopher has promised to supply us with the opening dates of all these churches, which Roamer finds hugely interesting, because John Wesley, a devoted Anglican, was at the same time nurturing another completely new church movement!

This seems to be the equivalent of a politician organising a new party whilst remaining in his own party!

That couldn’t happen in Stormont or Westminster today - or could it?! Whatever, the church is generally much more inclusive than party politics allows.

And tomorrow proves the point when, in Dublin, Methodist leaders will take part in the consecration of a new Church of Ireland Bishop.

For the first time in the history of the two churches, Methodists with join with Anglicans ‘in the laying on of hands’ during the consecration of the Rev Canon Kenneth Arthur Kearon as Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe.

During this historic service in Christ Church Cathedral the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Peter Murray, The Rev Donald Kerr, former President and General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland and former President and Co-Chair of the Covenant Council, the Rev Winston Graham will join with other Church of Ireland Bishops in the laying on of hands on the newly elected Bishop.

This is the first time that participation by Methodist leaders has taken place. It has been made possible by the decision of both the General Synod and the Methodist Conference allowing for the interchangeability of ministry.

As a result of this Methodist Presidents are now regarded as Episcopal Ministers and as such can participate in this service. This participation also marks the start of full interchangeably of ministry between both Churches.

The service which commences at 2.30 pm tomorrow will be led by the Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Reverend Dr Michael Jackson, and the preacher will be The Most Reverend Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales.

You can watch church history unfolding at home, streamed live on your computer at