Edith Schaeffer, 1914-2013
Obituary The widow of Francis Schaeffer and co-founder of L’Abri Fellowship is remembered for her humanity, humility, and hospitality | Chelsea Kolz Boes
Edith Schaeffer, co-founder of L’Abri Fellowship, author of 17 books, and widow of pastor/author Francis Schaeffer, died today at age 98.
She was born Nov. 3, 1914, to missionary parents in Wenzhou, China, and met her husband-to-be at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Pa., on June 26, 1932, where a Unitarian was explaining his reasons for denying the Bible’s teachings about God and about Christ’s deity. Even as Edith planned to stand up and argue her position, Francis stood up and began arguing his. Then Edith stood and spoke.
She wore a wreath of white flowers in her hair on July 6, 1935, leaving school a year early to marry the lean, clean-shaven, and determined “Fran.” Her hospitality complemented Francis’ anguish for the lost. The Schaeffers—then with three daughters, Priscilla, Deborah, and Susan—moved to Switzerland as missionaries in 1948. There the Schaeffers had a son, Frank.
Among Edith Schaeffer’s greatest contributions to the world: her humanity, artistic nature, humility, and hospitality. Sometimes Sunday lunch boasted as many as 36 guests, but she always made more food than she expected to need. She made rolls by hand, forming them individually, sometimes into the shapes of snails, topping them with different kinds of seeds, and turning the leftover dough into cinnamon rolls. She would sometimes stop in the process of roll making to take a phone call, then pray for the caller. “You keep making the rolls,” she’d say to her assistant Mary Jane Grooms. “I’ll pray.”
As introductions commenced at the 36-person Sunday lunch, Edith’s assistant Mike Sugimoto was astonished by her personal interest in every person in the room. He also expressed awe over Edith’s ability to connect with the cultural traditions of the people of Italy and France, her devoted praying (oral and written), and the notes she wrote all over her Bible.
Since L’Abri was never flush with money, its meals contained little meat, but Edith kept an extensive vegetable garden, and guests dined on what Grooms remembered as “wonderful, healthy food.” For Edith, Grooms said, hospitality meant a real love for strangers, and having time for them when she didn’t have time for them: “‘Sit at our dinner table, have a meal with us, sleep in our beds, under our roof.’ It’s a very costly thing to do with your life and family.”
Grooms described Edith as a homemaking artist with more energy than most human beings: Her credo and biggest lesson to the world was to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way in the Lord’s strength, not your own. Edith sometimes lectured on “The Art of Living and the Courage to Be Creative,” laughing a grainy laugh while exhorting her audience to do small artistic kindnesses: draw a banana beside “banana” on the grocery list, read aloud and try a Yiddish accent, or mimic the Queen of England. Or, even, think ahead to start the coffee.
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