Verna Dozier, 1917-2006
A high school English teacher and Christian educator, Verna Dozier is credited with changing and revitalizing the way Episcopalians learn and use God’s word in their lives. Born in Washington, DC, her parents deeply influenced her passion for education and her deep Biblical faith. She received a BA and an MA in English from Howard University and went on to teach in public schools for the next 32 years. During this time and well after her retirement, Dozier was deeply involved in the study of the Bible and Christian education.
A believer in critical and independent thought, she stated in a 1997 commencement address, “All learning begins not with the answers of the teacher, but with the questions of the learner.” For Dozier, religious authority came with baptism and lies with laity; ministry was not just for the ordained.
Her reputation as a demanding yet caring teacher paired with her ability to empower the laity became well known. In the 1950s, she began teaching classes at her Washington, DC parish (St. Mark’s), at the national Episcopal Youth summer conferences, and in Diocese of Washington’s educational programs. Soon, she was in demand in dioceses all across the United States as a teacher, mentor, conference and workshop leader, public speaker, and as a trainer and consultant for the Episcopal Church. After her retirement, Dozier devoted herself to Christian education full-time. For all her work in the Church, she was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from the University of the South in 1988 and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1993.
Not only was she an educator, Dozier was also an activist. In her teaching, she would often use stories about racism and other social issues. Having grown up under Jim Crow, she was an advocate of oppressed people throughout society and the Church. She supported the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate and was an advocate for gay and lesbian rights in the Church.
Verna Dozier served the Church in other capacities as well. In the Diocese of Washington, she was a member of the Standing Committee and the Commission on Ministry. At the national level, she served on the Episcopal Church’s Board of Examining Chaplains and the Church Deployment Board. In addition to her work for the Church, she was on the Board of the Alban Institute, and a member of the Council of the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral and of Mid-Atlantic Training and Consulting.
Dozier was one of the most sought-after speakers churchwide and had tremendous impact on generations of lay leaders who were educated in the new Prayer Book emphasis on baptized ministry. She authored several articles and books including The Dream of God: A Call to Return, Equipping the Saints: A Method of Self-Directed Bible Study for Lay Groups, and Sisters and Brothers: Reclaiming a Biblical Idea of Community. [Sources]