Sunday, March 31, 2013

Goodbye, Dear Edith

Please read this thoughtful obituary by Udo Middleman for his mother-in-law, Edith Schaeffer, who died on March 30.

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

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