Edith Schaeffer's legacy of course is rooted in her husband, Francis Schaeffer's life story. She and Francis are most prominently known for their founding of L'Abri Fellowship International and thier numerous books. However, the story of Edith Schaeffer carries numerous foundational elements to the overall success of their work together. Moreover, as one explores her contribution to their life work, it becomes immediately obvious that Edith was no mere bystander, but rather a significant strength, advocate and real player. Scholars and visitors have remarked that Edith was in fact the "secret of L'Abri," as her efforts both behind the scenes and in the spotlight were essential to the success of the work. It seems quite obvious that God, in his providence, had brought together two leaders that were destined to revolutionize Christianity in their time.
Edith Rachel Merritt Seville,, was born in Wenchow, China on November 3. Known as Mei Fuh, she was the fourth child of missionaries, George Hugh Seville and Jessie Maude Merritt Seville. They served in what was formerly known as the China Inland Mission, founded by Hudson Taylor. During their time in China, She and her family had tried to learn Chinese culture and even adopted some elements of Chinese dress. Edith would retain a love for Chinese culture throughout her life.
Edith was well educated and highly creative. In her senior year, her family would move back to the states and she would begin attending Germantown High School, where Francis Schaeffer had attended but by this time, had moved on to college at Hampden-Sydney. After graduating, she would attend a youth event at church, where the speaker was presenting on the topic: “How I know that Jesus is not the Son of God, and how I know that the Bible is not the Word of God.” During the lecture, she jumped up and began to make a reply, however, across the room Fran, who was already standing began to speak. Edith sat back down and listened in amazement. Edith ask her friends, “Who’s that boy?” She was not aware of anyone in the church who knew any replies against Modernism. Edith soon rose to make her points, quoting from J. Gresham Machen, and Robert D. Wilson. of Westminster Theological Seminary nearby. Fran likewise would ask his friend, “Who’s that girl?” He was impressed and was not aware that anyone attending the church was familiar with Old Princeton Apologetics. Thereafter, Fran would ask Edith if he could walk her home, to which Edith replied, "I have a date." Fran looked at her calmly and simply said, "Break it!" Thus began their life together as defenders of the faith. It should be noted that it was Edith who first introduced Fran to the writings of J. Gresham Machen.
The two continued thier relationship together as Fran finished his time away at college in Hampden-Sydney and Edith would study at Beaver College, now Arcadia University for a degree in home economics. Edith was highly trained in foods, dietetics, dressmaking, interior decorating, and art appreciation, all of which she would put to good use eventually at L’Abri.
Francis Schaeffer and Edith Seville would be married on July 6, 1935 at Wayne Avenue United Presbyterian Church, by Edith’s father George Seville. They saw their relationship as rooted in ministry from the very beginning. Fran remarked to Edith in a letter, this wonderful thought: “How I hope we may have many years of service together, and finally entrance together into eternity.” They would spend their honeymoon working at a Christian camp together. Edith, having been raised in a missionary family understood the pastoral calling of her new husband and was highly supportive. She had seen in the life of her mother and father the sacrifice and unity that must be worked for. While Francis and Edith had much in common, they also were opposites in many ways, which allowed them to compliment each other.
After they were married, Fran would soon start seminary at Westminster Theological Seminary and Edith ordered her schedule to match his even down to their time of eating. She wanted to be close to him in every way, even taking part in his studies with him at times. While he was away at seminary, she would make things such as belts to be sold to assist their finances.
The Schaeffers would go on to pastor in three locations; Covenant Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Pennsylvania (now Covenant OPC, see history), where they pioneered work in "summer Bible school" (what we would now call vacation Bible school), inspired by the summer Bible school program developed by Abraham Lance Lathem. Thereafter Fran served as an associate pastor directly under Dr. Abraham Lance Lathem at Bible Presbyterian Church in Chester. His service was largely involved in a large building project, which Fran had experience in during his time in Grove City. Yet, Fran and Edith's heart was for children's ministry and they eventually accepted a call to the Bible Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri in 1943. It was here that they founded their ministry called “Children for Christ," after bringing the first summer Bible school program to St. Louis. It has been noted by several of the young people that helped that Edith was highly instrumental in various creative projects that were part of the Children for Christ curriculum, including flanelgraphs, shadow puppets, and various things to inspire the children. Her work complimented the theological training of Francis, but she was known to be very fluent in her theology as well.
Francis would be a pastor in the states, for over 10 years before he and Edith were called to be missionaries to post-war Europe with the charge to “strengthen that which remains” by the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions of which Fran was by then a trustee. After a tour of Europe, Fran would resign his pastorship and his position on the board to accept the new role. They would be active in spreading the ministry to children in Europe in their early years as missionaries, as well as being active in encouraging European churches to join the International Council of Christian Churches.
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