Fall 2022 Retreat: Pilgrimage to the Albert Schweitzer Home and Seminar Center

Our leader, John Eichrodt, described this workshop not as a simple visit or tour, but rather a pilgrimage to honor the life and work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), in particular his theological quest and life-long efforts for world peace. The home and center are about a twenty-five minute ride southeast of Mittelwihr, in the small Alsatian village of Gunsbach, and our visit happily coincided with the 70th anniversary of Schweitzer’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

John had served with the Peace Corps in the 1960s in Togo, where he worked with a former associate of Schweitzer’s, Dr. Reinhard Lindner, which sparked his interest in Schweitzer and his work, and he promised us not just a museum tour, but a seminar, which in his words “had about five hours-worth of content delivered in forty-five minutes” (He was right about that!)

We were greeted at the modern Center—which was attached to his home—by two Schweitzer experts from Strasbourg that John had arranged for, who showed us a short documentary of Schweitzer’s life. From there we toured his home, which doubled as the museum.

For those not familiar with him (or only mildly so), Schweitzer was a theologian, philosopher, composer, organist (a Bach specialist with his own records) and Lutheran minister, who at the age of thirty made a conscious decision to put his beliefs into action by going to medical school and eventually opening a medical clinic in French Equatorial Africa, in what is now Gabon. He was also a prolific writer, whose philosophy he summed up with the phrase “reverence for life.” “My life is my argument.” Schweitzer would say, talking of his work, and on visits back to his home in Gunsbach, he did much of his writing at a small desk by a front window of his house. There, neighbors and local children would just walk by to say hello and offer him small gifts of their produce. The museum cleverly re-created these gestures by projecting actual historic movie footage onto a window shade at that very window where he wrote:

John’s seminar after the museum tour emphasized not only Schweitzer’s philosophy and written works, but particularly his efforts to ban nuclear testing. Schweitzer had become increasingly alarmed about the prospect of nuclear warfare after World War II, and at the urging of American intellectual and magazine publisher Norman Cousins, actively promoted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by urging the world leaders he had come to know over the years to accept it, which they eventually did, an example of the moral influence Schweitzer held over political leaders world-wide at that time.

While remaining a self-described life-long Lutheran, in the early 1960s Schweitzer accepted a membership invitation from the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship, replying, “I thank you cordially for your offer….I accept with pleasure.”

On a personal note, I recall as a teenager in the 1960s seeing Schweitzer in the news frequently. One day while browsing the stacks in a local record store, I stumbled upon one of his albums, not knowing at the time that he was also a world-renowned organist. “Is this the same guy?” I wondered, thinking of the world-famous jungle doctor and peace activist. Turns out it was.

The visit to the Schweitzer home and Center in Gunsbach was indeed a pilgrimage, and I thank John for all his efforts in making it happen.

Ray Eberling