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OpEd: Edith Schaeffer, New Yorker at Heart

Updated April 10, 2013. Edith Schaeffer died on Saturday. Her son-in-law Udo MIddleman remembers her connections and inspirations from New York City.

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Photo-illustration by Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions. Adapted from photos by Sylvester Jacobs

Photo-illustration by Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions. Adapted from photos by Sylvester Jacobs

Update: April 19, 2013, 2pm funeral service in Gryon, Switzerland; and April 25, 2013 2pm funeral service in Rochester, Minnesota.

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 Wenchow, China, where her parents ran a school for girls and taught the Bible in Mandarin.

Edith Schaeffer loved New York because it resonated with her philosophy. She 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, Pennsylvania while he attached a steeple to it with the elders’ help.

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 at her home in Switzerland 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.” Edith Schaeffer summed up some of her ideas about hospitality, home, and beauty in books such as L'AbriTapestry, What is a Family?Hidden Art and Christianity is Jewish.

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. 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 a vacation, 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

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

Update April 10, 2013 adapted from Debbie Middleman-Schaeffer:

She had lived in her lovely chalet built in 1683 in Gryon for 13 years, where she longed to live and die, surrounded with the beloved witnesses of her rich life: her Steinway baby grand Piano, her dozens of paintings by her son Frank, her gorgeous antiques and linen drapes, known by her friends in Rochester MN as she entertained them in her home there, “The Old Orchard”, for 17 years.

All these precious things surrounded her as she so hoped, on the night she talked with her son-in-law and pastor Udo Middelmann about the resurrection with fresh flowers next to her, watched a concert on BBC Four TV with delight, fell asleep and never woke on Holy Saturday. She will, we know, be raised as God promised, from her burial place next to her husband Francis Schaeffer in Rochester MN.

We rejoice at her passion for life, her deep enjoyment of people whether Horowitz or a NY taxi driver, her close attention to detail, whether in sewing stunning clothes for herself, making flower arrangements, or decorating her house, creating elaborate receptions in her home until the age of 88, and her enjoyment of music, whether J.S. Bach, Eric Clapton or B.B. King, going to films, especially Woody Allen, and indeed beauty in all its forms.

She will be sorely missed by even the youngest of our grandchildren, 2 - year old Seraphine, as she so enjoyed going to birthday parties, watching the children play, and even  last year being pulled on a special wagon to take people in wheelchairs behind a miniature steam train by the her beloved lake in Switzerland together with a grandson of ours, Benjamin. She was a great sport!

“La chaim” until the Messiah comes, Mummy!


Because of the winter weather in Rochester with new snow this weekend, the funeral service to honor

Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer

Will be held at the Plummer House, 1091 Plummer Lane SW, Rochester, MN, on Thursday, April 25 at 2 pm.

Immediately afterwards we will all go to Oakwood Cemetery for the burial next to her husband Francis A. Schaeffer. Everyone is welcome.

Cordially, Udo and Deborah Middelmann

  • Great blog!

  • Nice remembrance!

  • What a joy it was for me to to have met Edith Schaeffer in November 1974, in her home , i think the area was called Leysin( i stand corrected!).I was working at a small hotel(penscion), ant the Schaeffers lived next door.

    This was a meeting from the God of Providence.I had walked that whole hill, and all the other small hotels did not have any vacancies. This was probably the second last one back then.My swiss boss told me "some Americans were staying there, and the husband does not speak french!). This raised my curiosity as I had now learned a bit about this 'Francis Schaeffer and his wife".

    I had come from South Africa, sick of the Apartheid system, and was looking for answers, as to how can the Afrikaaner government , then in power be Christian in any sense of the word? I had gone to a Bible College in South Africa, but did not find meaningful answers there. So extremely frustrated and angry at"God" here is where i ended up, and right next to the Schaeffers!

    On one of my afternoons off, I decided to pluck up the courage to see who these Schaeffers really were, as I was totally suspicious of just about every white person at that stage in my life. I knocked at the door, and a lady opened it, she smiled and said " Hi, I'm Edith Scheffer, and were expecting you".This really threw me, as i had no idea what this woman was talking about! There at the table was a place setting for me, and she served one of my favourite meals, Chinese. I also met her husband and a few other guests. Then we started a lifelong friendship.I still have a book she gave me with a foreword she wrote in her own hand dated November 1974. A spiritual love and admiration for the Schaeffers, and a new openess and love for white folk. The God who is There planned this whole episode. How can I not believe?

    Monty Naidoo. South Africa. June 3, 2013.
    We do serve a Living Saviour.

  • Like this too.

  • Thanks for sharing this. She was a wonderful woman.

  • I like this.

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