‘First’ mother of Methodism Creation of Susanna Wesley sculpture

Published:
1:42 p.m. January 28, 2022



A 17th century feminist pioneer has been immortalized in wood in a church in East Finchley.

The giant sculpture of Susanna Wesley, mother of Methodism, now stands in the front garden of East Finchley Methodist Church on the High Road.

Organizers say it is the “world’s first public sculpture” of the Methodist matriarch.

Standing over 20 feet tall, the Western Red Cedar has stood bare for more than four years.


Jane Ray with Year 5 students from Martin Primary School at East Finchley Methodist Church where woodcarver Simon O’Rourke transforms the cypress tree in the garden into a statue of Susanna Wesley.
– Credit: Polly Hancock

To mark the church’s bicentenary in 2019, a statue was created by North Wales woodcarver Simon O’Rourke as part of a refurbishment of the space.

In five days, Simon transformed “an eyesore into a new landmark” overlooking the high street.


Woodcarver Simon O'Rouke who transforms the cypress in the garden into a sculpture with Suse

Woodcarver Simon O’Rouke transforming the cypress tree in the garden into a sculpture with Susanna Wesley atop a carved tree and wooden trunk.
– Credit: Polly Hancock

The pupils of Martin primary school came to see the craftsman at work on Thursday 27 January.

Jane Ray, senior church steward, who organized the project, said: ‘The bare branches looked like Susanna’s outstretched welcoming arms to us and we are thrilled to see Simon bring this vision to life.’

She said four years ago the tree, which was originally 50 meters tall, had to be felled for safety reasons.

A 103-year-old parishioner died and left money to spend on “something for the kids” and that’s how Jane’s idea came about.

Additional funds were raised by parishioners and the Heathfield Trust, a local Methodist charity.

“In the spirit of Susanna Wesley, the front garden of the church is transformed into a space for children and adults to come,” Jane said.

“We were very moved by the response from the public.”


Woodcarver Simon O'Rourke who transforms the cypress tree in the garden into a statue of Susanna

Woodcarver Simon O’Rourke transforming the cypress tree in the garden into a statue of Susanna Wesley.
– Credit: Polly Hancock

Susanna Wesley, the last of 25 siblings, was born in 1669 and is known as the mother of Methodism.

Although she never officially preached a sermon, she was instrumental in nurturing and inspiring her children, believing that girls should have the same right to learn as boys.

She wrote meditations and scriptural commentaries for her own use and drew crowds of local people to her family services on Sunday afternoons.

Her husband spent periods in prison, leaving Susanna to raise the children alone.

Among his 19 descendants were John and Charles Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement which today has around 80 million adherents worldwide.

She was also the mother of the poet Mehetabel Wesley Wright known as “Hetty”.


Year 5 pupils from Martin Primary School in East Finchley visit the garden at East Finchley Methodi

Jane Ray with Grade 5 pupils from Martin Primary School visit the garden of East Finchley Methodist Church where woodcarver Simon O’Rourke transforms the cypress tree in the garden into a statue of Susanna Wesley.
– Credit: Polly Hancock

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