Sarah was born in Reading in 1714 and was elder sister to John Cennick, the famous Methodist then Moravian evangelist and hymn writer. Sarah’s father was from a Quaker family and her mother was an Anglican. They lived next door to the Vicarage where Sarah spent much of her time until ‘the servants sought to bring her into all manner of wickedness and she was shocked almost to death’. She never said what this was but was in such a state that she decided to dedicate herself to the Lord and enter a cloister. However her family was well to do and sent her to London for ‘further improvement’, she had a very happy time there and visited all the public places and curiosities and concluded that she was made for the world after all.
By this time her mother and brother were involved with John and Charles Wesley but Sarah was not happy about this. When she was 28 she met the Moravian minister Br John Toeltschig who was also involved with the Wesleys and Rev Benjamin Ingham and James Hutton. Br Toeltschig was very helpful to her and so, along with her brother, she became involved with the Moravians.
She started working with the Moravians as a Single Sisters Labouress and this became her life’s work. Her first experience of this work was when she went to help her brother John who had set up a Society in Kingswood, near Bristol. There she was to look after the single women, unfortunately for her they were rather rough collier women and although she tried hard, she found it very difficult and returned to Reading, longing more than ever to enter a cloister.
John then asked her to join him in East Tytherton, Wiltshire. There she was heartened by a visit to Tytherton by Count and Countess Zinzendorf and learnt more about the ‘Brethren’s Church’ particularly about the Single Sisters. The Single Sisters House sounded something like a convent and both she and her brother thought that its life would suit her. So in 1747 she applied to go to Herrnhaag, (a Moravian settlement in Germany) to visit the Single Sisters there. She saw with delight the congregation life and the regulations of the Single Sisters and joined the congregation at Herrnhaag.
Later Sarah was ‘called’ back to work in England at the new settlement in Yorkshire, Lambs Hill, later to become Fulneck, its buildings masterminded by John Toeltschig. Then in 1750 she was ‘called’ to London before being sent on to Dublin and then the following year she was ‘called’ to Northern Ireland and then in 1758 ‘called’ back to London. On the journey back from Belfast to Liverpool the ship ran into a great storm and they spent a day grounded on the sandbanks, but eventually arrived back safe and sound.
After a month in Fulneck she travelled to Bedford and then onto Germany visiting seven Moravian settlements including Herrnhut and was ordained a Deaconess there. She went back to London and then to Bedford where she was to care for the young women. In 1764 she moved back to Fulneck to help with the Single Sisters and Great Girls. After a while here she moved to Gomersal to look after the Single Sisters Oeconomy there.
The Single Sisters at Gomersal contributed to her maintenance although some were a bit resentful as it was said ‘not working herself but spending the time reading magazines’. Nevertheless Sarah counted her six years at Gomersal as the happiest of her life. The work was hard, in winter when the weather was bad and the roads were almost impassable she continued to visit Sisters in outlying Societies. Occasionally she was lent a horse but usually she walked. She called these walks her Liturgical walks and described how her best friend (Jesus) ‘made perfect his strength in her weakness – I have been so comforted and strengthened that I with surprise found myself nearer my journey’s end than I could have thought.’ Her great joy at Gomersal was the Parsonage garden which she likened to paradise.
In November 1769 Sarah caught a violent cold and felt strangely ill. She was moved back to Fulneck to be looked after. As she lay in bed she asked to see all the Sisters from Fulneck, Gomersal and Littlemoor Hall room by room. In January 1770 she closed her eyes to finally sleep in the arms of her everlasting Bridegroom.
Written by Molly Lythe, compiled from Ruth Strong’s article about Sarah Cennick in the Moravian History Magazine, The Choir House archives and Sarah Cennick’s own memoirs in the Church archives.
She left a very comprehensive Will bequeathing all her clothes to the Sisters in the Fulneck Sisters House specifying particularly
|To Sus Rous||my India Silk Hankerchief|
|to Sus Brook||my old stays, garden sleeves and the pocket Hankerchiefs she gave me|
|To Jane Stockwell||a pr stuff shoes, small pr pattens and the Hand’f ‘she aave me with a check’d red and white cotton ditto|
|to H’h Walton||mv best brown coat and iacket. a pr old sleeves, and if the piece of camblet(cambric?) be the same that to, to make her a gown|
|To S Bullock||my blew and white strip’d Holland coat and jacket|
|To Mar’a and H’h Stevenson||each a large shift and pieces of the same cloth wch was taken of mv under coats, and to Mar’a my strip’d German apron|
|to G Harrison||a linnin Sprig’d contush (?) and red and white check’d cotton Had’f|
|to Mar’a Fowler||my fine small strip’d large cotten apron|
|toSr Hasse||that last made corse shift of 2 sorts of cloth|
|to Br Hasse||2 yds of fine linen cloth|
|to E Spaught||3/6 pr week for her loving and faithful service to me, and that she have my brown Holland sprig’d jacket, the pieces of wch is in Gumersal|
|To Sally Ubank||I give the red contush the same to my gown and the smallest piece of the Same for sleeves|
|To Jenny Rhodes||my black silk quilted coat and 2 pr of fine woven cotton stockings|
|To Beniana Moore||my flower’d German silk Hankerchief|
In addition she left ‘To each Sr in my Class at Fulneck a pair of white leather mits my will and desire is that a most thankful acknowledgment be made of that real Jesus like Love & genuine Heartiness which I have enioy’d in this Hous.’
Ref: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research: original Prerogative Wills November 1771