July 25, 2014

Edith Schaeffer. May Her Memory Be Eternal

Edith and Francis Schaeffer


Edith and Francis Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer passed away last week at 91 years old. Many readers may not know her. Edith was the wife of prominent Evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer who founded L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland and had immeasurable influence helping young people find their way out of the despair of moral relativism in the latter decades of the last century. Edith was a profound humanitarian but in a very humane way, revealing how creativity in small things like making a dinner brought forward a dimension of the divine in our daily labor that elevated and honored those to whom that work was offered.

She possessed grace and a generosity of the heart and spirit. Years ago on a cold day in Rochester, Minnesota I was privileged to experience her warmth. One of my closest friends married Edith Schaeffer’s secretary. When I heard that her son Frank was converting to the Orthodox faith I called Keith and offered to drive down from Minneapolis and explain to her what this Orthodox faith was.

She accepted the offer and it turned out to be a blessing more for me than her I think. I was a young priest at the time and just learning the ropes. She had prescient insight into the difficulties of clergy life and was especially kind to my wife who was dealing with the demands that clergy life imposes on the family. That day was a gift from God and the more it recedes into the past, the more I see how precious it was.

Now she is with her Savior whom she loved. May her memory be eternal.

Edith Schaeffer’s Rich Life

By Udo W. Middlemann

Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer died on March 30, 2013 in her home in Gryon, Switzerland, where she had moved 13 years ago to be surrounded by memories, her music, her son’s paintings and the detailed care organized daily by her daughter Deborah Middelmann. She was born on November 3, 1914 as the third daughter of Dr. George Hugh and Jessie Maude Seville in Wenchau, China, where her parents ran a school for girls and taught the Bible in Mandarin.

Edith Schaeffer marked her life with the expression of rich ideas, often rebellious against the staid and superficial life she saw among Christians. The oldest sister became a communist in New York of the 30ies, the second eloped. Edith Seville married Francis August Schaeffer in 1935 and in no way was she the typical pastor’s or missionary wife. She turned her active mind to work with her husband, teaching first seminary wives to think and to question, to create and make of life something of integrity, as her husband so wanted her to do.

To put her husband through 3 years of seminary she tailored men’s suits, made ball room gowns and wedding dresses for private clients. From whole cow skins she made belts sold in New York stores. With very little money she prepared tasteful and varied meals. She painted a fresco on the ceiling of the vestibule in the little church her husband pastored in Grove City, while he attached a steeple to it with the elders’ help. They lectured together and encouraged many to use their minds to understand what they believed and how to respond to the intellectual and cultural ideas around them. Together they travelled and taught in churches and university halls from Finland to Portugal, helping people understand Christianity as the truth of the universe, not a personal faith, and pointing out the cultural and philosophical pitfalls in everyone’s way.

She lived her life as a work of art, an exhibition of true significance and a portrait of a generous, stunning and creative personality. She always sought ways to draw on life’s opportunities to show that human beings are made for the enrichment of everyone’s life, for the encouragement of people. This was a central part of the work she and her husband engaged in from the very start of their life together. She was in all things generous. When books provided royalties she used all of it to give her four children and their families annual reunions for the cousins to know each other.

When she left the work of L’Abri after her husband’s death she started the Francis A Schaeffer Foundation with Udo and Deborah Middelmann to safeguard his papers and the ideas that underline their life, to make them available for a wider audience. She found people interesting anywhere, engaged in conversation and so met the most amazing individuals. She talked, for instance, with the author Andre Aciman, standing in line for tickets to Carnegie Hall in NY and found out that he had had our village doctor, Dr. Gandur, as his pediatrician in Alexandria, Egypt. He was so grateful to be in touch through her with his old doctor.

She enjoyed people in the streets, in airplanes and over the phone, wherever she found them or when they could reach her. She stayed up nights to help someone out of their distress or need. With much imagination she served her meals with stunning decorations made from twigs and moss, field flowers and stones. Duncan from Kenya once remarked: “This is the first place where I see the beauty of the truth of the Bible consistently carried over into all areas of life.”

After the death of her husband in 1984 Edith Schaeffer added a whole new chapter to her life. She continued to write books, lectured widely and returned twice to her place of birth in China. She investigated the making the Baby Grand Piano she had received as a gift at the Steinway factory in New York and presented “Forever Music” in a concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York with the Guarneri Quartet. Through Franz Mohr, the chief piano voicer at Steinway she came to know musicians like Rostropovich, the pianists Horowitz and Rudoph Serkin, the Cellists YoYo Ma and Ya Ya Ling, and also the guitarist Christopher Parkening. She organized concerts and elaborate receptions for musicians and friends in her home in Rochester, MN. When she met B. B. King at the International Jazz Festival in Montreux he gave her his pass to the evening’s concert. Once on vacations on the island of Elba, Sonny Rollins noticed her beauty and rhythm in the audience as she danced during his concert, came off the stage and danced with her.

Today she “slipped into the nearer presence of Jesus”, her Lord, from whom she awaits the promised resurrection to continue her life on earth and to dance once again with a body restored to wholeness.

If you wish to honor Edith Schaeffer’s life you can support her intense commitment to the work of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation, Jermintin 3, CH -1882 Gryon, Switzerland

Udo W. Middelmann
The Francis A Schaeffer Foundation
313 East 92nd Apt 5E
New York, NY 10128

Comments

  1. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    I appreciate this post very much. The only “impression” I’ve ever read of her is the one presented by her son. As a family therapist, from the outset you quickly learn of the inherent dangers of “one-sided stories,” and context, indeed, proves the key. And heaven knows it takes a person of extraordinary means and stamina to negotiate life and love between two strong personalities such as her husband & son, and at least from my limited vantage, all the while simply acknowledged as the “the wife of…” and the “mother of…” without acknowledgement for own unique contribution. I hope someone (other than her son) undertakes a proper biography.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Bill Congdon says:

      Well said, Mr. Stankovich. Memory eternal.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Ivan Kapusta says:

      Sadly, the first thing I had thought of when Mrs. S. passed away was my utter dislike of her traitorous son and the hatchet job he had done in exposing her in his pathetic book just for a quick buck. The title of that piece of rubbish was what really floored me. And this was after he had trashed his father in “Crazy for God.” I knew something was awry when Princeton had invited him to speak about the latter book. Franky S. capitalized on his privileged childhood and dishonored both parents just to make a profit. Like all spoiled brats, he needs to be severely spanked and sent to his corner. And why isn’t the hierarchy putting this little megalomaniac on ice?

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Anil Wang says:

      For the record, she has done a autobiography for her family:

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Tapestry-Times-Francis-Schaeffer/dp/0849930162

      She’s also written several other books.

  2. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    cyntha curran says:

    Sadly, the first thing I had thought of when Mrs. S. passed away was my utter dislike of her traitorous son and the hatchet job he had done in exposing her in his pathetic book just for a quick buck. The title of that piece of rubbish was what really floored me. And this was after he had trashed his father in “Crazy for God.” I knew something was awry when Princeton had invited him to speak about the latter book. Franky S. capitalized on his privileged childhood and dishonored both parents just to make a profit. Like all spoiled brats, he needs to be severely spanked and sent to his corner. And why isn’t the hierarchy putting this little megalomaniac on ice Well, I agree Franky is acting more protestant and western since in the Orthodox East parents are thought of in proper terms not to trash.

  3. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    cyntha curran says:

    I appreciate this post very much. The only “impression” I’ve ever read of her is the one presented by her son. As a family therapist, from the outset you quickly learn of the inherent dangers of “one-sided stories,” and context, indeed, proves the key. And heaven knows it takes a person of extraordinary means and stamina to negotiate life and love between two strong personalities such as her husband & son, and at least from my limited vantage, all the while simply acknowledged as the “the wife of…” and the “mother of…” without acknowledgement for own unique contribution. I hope someone (other than her son) undertakes a proper biography.

    Reply Stankovich is a politcal liberal but he doesn’t go around and trash people like Franky does.

  4. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Geo Michalopulos says:

    Franky should be ashamed of himself. I wonder what kind of spiritual guidance he has been getting. I hope for the sake of the Orthodox priesthood the answer is “none at all.”

  5. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    cyntha curran says:

    Edith Schaeffer 1914 – 2013 RIP by Frank

    My mother Edith Schaeffer died today. She was the author of many books on family life and spirituality and co-founder with my father Francis Schaeffer of the evangelical ministry of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. She has just gone to be with the Lord, as she would put it. She died at home which was her wish.

    I last talked to Mom yesterday. Rather she slept as I talked. A few days before my granddaughter Lucy was on my lap and we were talking to Mom via Skype. That day she was awake.

    Mom’s face filled the screen and she was looking at us on the laptop placed on the covers of her bed. I last had been with her in person two years ago when I’d spent ten days with her. Before she was bedridden (about four months ago) we’d talk on the phone and after that we’d Skype.

    I’ve been talking to her every day for the last several weeks knowing she was slipping away. Since I care for my two youngest grandchildren, Lucy (4) and Jack (2) five days a week they have often been there when “Noni,” as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called Mom was on the screen with us.

    During one of the last calls when Lucy and I talked to her last week, Mom was beautiful with her silver hair in a ponytail and her red hair band and matching shawl. Trapped in a body she’d lost control of, it took all of her formidable willpower to acknowledge our love. She had a feeding tube in her nose and was slipping in and out of consciousness. Five minutes after we hung up she would not remember the conversation. But in the moment when I said “I love you,” she nodded back and was fully aware.

    Mom was staring earnestly into the laptop screen her nurse had set up so we could talk via Skype. My four year old granddaughter Lucy whispered “Does she have her perfume on?”

    “Your great grandmother always wears perfume. So I bet she does,” I answered.

    I kept reminding Mom of who we were, speaking rather slowly and loudly, “This is your son, Frank, and I have my four year old granddaughter, Lucy, on my lap. Can you see her Mom? This is John’s daughter. John was our Marine. Remember praying for his safe return from Afghanistan? God answered your prayers, Mom. Say hi to your great-granddaughter Mom.”

    When I asked if she knew we loved her, Mom acknowledged us with a slight nod and whispered “Yes.” Those turned out to be her last spoken words to me.

    Mother was three thousand miles away in Switzerland. We were in Massachusetts. She was ninety-eight and dying. Lucy is four years old and thriving. We were in my home in the studio/office I’d built out of the old woodshed. We were surrounded by piles of manuscripts including, a stack four feet high of the twenty-three drafts of a new novel I’m working on. Lucy had your feet up on the top of the pile. My paintings were leaning in deep clusters against the walls and were hanging on every surface. The ubiquitous smell of turpentine and linseed oil was in the air. Mom had always loved that smell. When I was a kid she’d walk into my room, breathe deeply and say “I just LOVE the smell of paintings!”

    Before that day’s Skype chat with Mom, Lucy and I had been conducting imaginary orchestras while listening to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in G, full volume. Lucy launched an impromptu recitation of the Twenty Third Psalm, saying it all the way through. We’d also been looking at the weird and wonderful art of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Lucy and Jack loved his pictures of sixteenth century peasants, beggars, and his apocalyptic fantasies. So even though Lucy and had never met

Care to comment?

*