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Verna Josephine Dozier

By Fredrica Harris Thompsett


Verna J. Dozier (1917-2006), a high school teacher of English literature and a religious educator, focused adult education on Bible study and on claiming the authority of the laity. She is credited by many in the Episcopal Church with actually changing the field of scripture study and reclaiming attention to the ministry of all the baptized. A Washingtonian, Dozier was educated in public schools and at Howard University. Raised a Baptist, in 1955 she joined the Episcopal Church. For 34 years she was employed by the Washington D.C. Board of Education. From the 1960s onward she became known for teaching scripture. After taking early retirement in 1975, she worked full time as religious educator, a church conference leader, a consultant to church groups, and an author of books and articles on the ministry of God's people in the world. Currently she is a resident and patient with advanced Parkinson's disease at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Maryland.


Verna Josephine Dozier was born on October 9, 1917 in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington DC. She was named after an aunt. Her father, Lonna Dozier, was the oldest of 12 children raised in rural Cataula, Georgia. Although he caught the eye of an early teacher and had wanted to complete high school and attend college, he did neither. His father wanted him on the farm and stopped his high school education at eighth grade. Lonna Dozier left farming as a young man and settled in Washington where he eventually worked as a skilled laborer in the government printing office, often holding two jobs to support his family. Dozier's mother, Lucie E. Carter, was an educated woman, a graduate of Armstrong High School in Washington D.C. She worked at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing until she left that job to stay home with her children. Verna's sister, Lois Gertrude Dozier, was born May 1,1919. In their youth, the family moved to L Street in Northeast Washington, a largely black working to middle class neighborhood. The two girls, the family's only children, would be companions throughout their lives, attending school and college together, and later on sharing residences until Lois' death in 1998. As an adult Dozier lived in only three different houses in the District. In the last decade of her life she and Lois moved to the Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Maryland.

Verna Dozier's primary intellectual and religious influences were grounded in her closely knit family. She experienced her father as brilliant, a man who voraciously read every book that the girls brought home throughout their schooling and who discussed with them what they were learning. Dozier later remarked that her father would have been a college professor had it not been for racism. Her mother she described as more social and outgoing. She enjoyed women's clubs and entertaining, much like Verna's sister Lois. Living with scant financial and formal educational resources, both parents were clearly devoted to one another and to supporting their daughters. Lonna Dozier helped with the cooking, washing and cleaning. Dozier learned early on that assigning separate roles for women and for men was "nonsense." The sisters had different temperaments and gifts. As children Lois played the piano, while Verna's youthful "specialty" was oration. She loved to "orate," reading poems, stories, and essays with "a great dramatic flair." At a young age Dozier described herself as shy, plump, and bookish. She had a bad ankle, and read a lot. She was not socially outgoing or athletic like Lois. Her life was focused on her mind and intellect. The sisters were increasingly aware of the challenges of living in a segregated society and of dealing with class barriers. Race was a very serious and essential topic. They learned where they could walk, shop, travel, and even go to church. Dozier observed that those of her classmates who were Episcopalians were "always the fairest" and had college-educated parents who didn't have "laboring jobs."

Verna Dozier's early religious faith was shaped by her agnostic father and her Baptist mother, although her mother and father were both raised as Baptists. Her "very devout" mother attended the Nineteenth Street Baptist church, where young Verna heard fundamentalist preachers, and where her sister Lois remained a member until her death. From her parents, Dozier inherited both a questioning mind and a deep biblical faith. The central legacy of her childhood was a nighttime ritual in which her mother would read to her daughters from the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare. Her favorite plays were Hamlet and Macbeth, and her favorite prophet, Amos. While her father was working at night, these three family members would take turns reading out loud from the Bible, or they might read a Shakespeare play, taking different parts. She grew up with Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us as half of her youthful library. This home-schooling and early religious formation would prove pivotal for her ministry as a teacher and religious educator.

Both sisters inherited their father's love of learning and their mother's ambitions for their education. Verna Dozier attended Dunbar High School, where she skipped two grades and was prepared to enter college when she was 15. Her mother was determined that her daughters should attend college. The Dozier sisters tell a story about their mother who, when she was cleaning up his office, told a New York congressman about her oldest daughter's desire to go to college. He then told her about the National Youth Administration, and Verna eventually attended Howard University on a NYA academic scholarship. Dozier received her B.A. in English from Howard University in 1937 and an M.A. in English Literature in 1938. She did a Master's thesis on a composer of African American hymns under Benjamin Brawley, a Professor of English who used to preach occasionally at the Dozier family's nearby Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. At Howard, Dozier was inspired by great women teachers, notably Eva D. Dykes and Grace Coleman. Lois Dozier also received her B.A. from Howard University and went on to Columbia University to study Library Science. After a full career as an university librarian, most of it at Howard University as Acquisitions Librarian, Lois Dozier retired in 1980.

Theologically Verna Dozier's mind was stretched by extensive personal reading and by attending Howard University's Chapel and hearing the sermons of its Dean, Howard Thurman, She would begin the morning by reading from liberal Baptist theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick's The Manhood of the Master (1913). Fosdick's work challenged fundamentalist scriptural interpretation and emphasized the humanity of Jesus. As a Baptist scholar his influence on Dozier was strong, the first of many theologians whose writings shaped her scriptural understanding. Dozier was a diligent student of biblical scholarship, although the only theological degrees she received were honorary doctorates: a Doctor of Humane Letters from the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia and a Doctor of Divinity from the University of the South in 1988.

As a young adult Verna Dozier's religious journey took a new turn precipitated by her experience at Howard University. When she began college, she stopped going to the local Baptist Church. She and her father would go every Sunday to the University Chapel. Together they heard exciting theologians, notably Dean Howard Thurman, Dr. Benjamin Mays and others. Father and daughter "just drank in" the new theological ideas they were hearing and held long conversations as they walked home. Thurman's writings, theology, and worldview would influence Dozier throughout her life. She was fond of quoting Thurman, particularly his vision of God's desire for creation: "A friendly world of friendly folk, Beneath a friendly sky." At Howard she also grew interested in other denominations and religions, and she was active in an ecumenical movement, the Washington Federation of Churches.

At one of these events Verna Dozier encountered Gordon Cosby, the first clergyman she had met who took seriously what the Gospel message was about for the poor and oppressed. Gordon's sermons about living your life differently day to day revived her commitment to the Christian church. In 1950 she joined the multi-denominational, highly disciplined community founded by Cosby, the Church of the Saviour. Membership involved intense community formation, daily meditation and devotions, weekly participation in an educational cell group, and classes of all sorts (Old Testament, New Testament, Christian Ethics, and "Christian Growth"). Tithing and taking on some form of social action were required. In her cell group Dozier met Vera Pierce and Janis Hoffman who became "very good friends, friends until the grave." Dozier had been attracted to the Church of the Saviour for its integrated and economically diverse community, as well as its in-depth biblical scholarship. She retained her support for the Church of the Saviour, followed its growing achievements, and later led its members at retreats.

By the 1950s Dozier was becoming well known in educational circles for teaching scripture. Even before she became an Episcopalian, Dozier with the support of Ginny Harbour and Emma Lou Benignus, members of the national Episcopal staff, taught at national Episcopal Youth summer conferences The diocesan Bishop of Washington, Angus Dun, involved her in Diocesan events, as did his Director of Religious Education, Marion Kelleran. Dozier taught at the Diocesan School of Christian Living, held in Chevy Chase. Dozier once remarked that suburban women who showed up to take her class on the Bible must have been surprised that their teacher was black, a woman, and a lay person, the only one on the School's staff. Yet the class proved a success. Here Dozier met Reid Isaac, who later headed the national Episcopal Church's Division of Christian Education.

At the Diocesan School, Dozier came to know Bill Baxter, a social activist whose justice-based parish preaching concentrated on the poor and oppressed. Baxter's radical preaching excited Dozier. It was Baxter who invited Verna Dozier in 1955 to join the Episcopal parish where he served, St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill. Baxter was convinced that St. Mark's was "ready for a black." This proved a exaggeration. Dozier was suspiciously interviewed by the governing council, or vestry, of the parish about her motives for seeking to join their community. In her early days there she believed that some parishioners thought that she was "a spy for the NAACP." Although other women friends from the Church of the Saviour joined with her, Dozier knew it was a risky for her to move to the Episcopal Church. Yet there were clear advantages. In addition to Baxter's preaching, she was drawn to the church's "beautiful" liturgical language, its intellectual freedom, and appreciation for the mind. Later in life in her oral history she remarked, "When I discovered the Episcopal Church, it was as if I had been waiting for that all my life."

Dozier was confirmed at St. Mark's, after struggling with the challenges of the required educational program developed in the 1950s by the Reverend Charles F. Penniman, Director of the Educational Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Penniman was Baxter's educational supervisor. To this day a variation of Penniman's model is used at St. Mark's. As a new parishioner in 1955, Dozier was skeptical about a program that was based on the lives of people rather than on the Bible and other books. She found the program's intense interest in the personal life a troubling manifestation of society's individualism, however she completed the program and would continue to work on and off with Penniman. Baxter believed that the fact that Dozier and the group of friends who joined St. Mark's each tithed their income, an event which doubled the parish budget, made the difference in her initial acceptance. When Dozier then led a Bible class, at Baxter's request, parishioners "fell in love" with the way she taught. For many years she taught classes at the parish, both as a part of the Penniman program and separately, drawing on her own methodology. She remained at St. Mark's for the rest of her life, taking on various leadership roles in teaching and preaching about the Bible to a people who initially did not seem to know much about the Christian story, serving on the vestry as the parish's first woman Senior Warden, consulting with clergy and lay leaders, and holding toward the end of her life an honorary appointment as Warden Emerita. She was a close colleague of and co-authored a book with James R. Adams, the Rector of St. Mark's from 1966-96. She literally presided over the parish during one of Adams' first sabbaticals, a story told by James R. Adams and Celia Hahn in Learning to Share the Ministry (1975). A layman and friend of long standing recently observed that Verna was accepted at St. Mark's as a prophet. Like the prophets, her "powerful gyroscope" balanced the core biblical tradition and with promoting justice in contemporary society.

The primary religious influences on Verna Dozier, ever since her childhood, were the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare. She knew the Bible backwards and forwards, always learning from its challenges. She enjoyed hearing favored passages from Shakespeare read up to her final days. She never lost her love for learning from either of these rich textual and spiritual resources. Of Howard Thurman - the black mystic, poet, preacher, and Dean of Howard's Chapel, Dozier once said "he just meant everything to my life." When she met him, Dozier was a very serious young woman, new to advanced studies. In Thurman's presence and words she must have found enduring hope to continue her studies, for as a young collegian, under many pressures at the age of 16, she had contemplated suicide.

At Howard, Dozier indulged her appetite for studying the Bible and reading biblical theologians, practices she would continue in her life. She read more books by Fosdick, Thurman and other American theologians. In the 1950s it was an Old Testament scholar, John Bright, who influenced and radically deepened her biblical perspective. His book, The Kingdom of God: The Biblical Concept and Its Meaning For the Church (1953), reinforced Dozier's high esteem for Amos as a prophet who spoke "at a time when society desperately needed criticism, yet when established religion could not deliver that criticism nor even criticize itself" (pg. 62). Bright's distinct analysis of the two worlds of the Kingdom and of the Church, became a staple of her ecclesiological analysis and an emphasis in her teaching about religious life. She was always, as friends remarked, reading books, passing them on to others to discuss with her. She remained up to date and, in her later years, admired the work of Hebrew Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann. Marcus Borg, one of today's leading Jesus scholars, was impressed by Dozier and she him. Dozier and Borg agreed that "ideas mattered" more than we think, and each managed to craft fresh expressions of biblical faith for contemporary readers. Dozier was steeped as well in African American literature and culture. With her students and friends of all ages she delighted in poetry. After Thurman, Lawrence Dunbar was a favorite poet, as were Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. Jacob Lawrence was a favorite painter. Later in life she loved to quote and read from Maya Angelou. She admired the photographer Brian Lanker, particularly his 1988 exhibition "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America."

The educational ministry of Verna Dozier had two phases, each grounded in the faithful witness and vocation of teaching. She had always wanted to be a teacher and her first career was dedicated to public school teaching. For 34 years she worked for the Washington DC Board of Education where she taught high school English, served as an administrator, and worked to develop innovative curricula. What she styled as her "second career" and her "continuing ministry" was serving as a free lance consultant in Bible study and the ministry of the laity. Read as a whole, her life is one long ministry of teaching with several chapters and interrelated pedagogical themes. After receiving her Master's degree Dozier, she taught for a year in Baltimore, then happily moved back to serve the rest of her career in the Washington schools, first at Brown Junior High School, then Cardozo High School, and finally at Ballou High School. Ballou was a new integrated school that opened in 1959 and Dozier was hired as Chairman of the English Department. She also was advisor for the school newspaper. Dozier may have been the first African American to head a department in the area's newly integrated school system. In 1968 she was appointed as a Curriculum Specialist in English and became a team leader for the Urban Teacher Corps. Dozier left Ballou in 1972 when she was promoted to Assistant Director, Department of English, Division of Instruction for the DC Schools. Here she and a colleague, Elva Wells, proposed, received, and directed a Title III Federal grant for a citywide project in which students and teachers developed curriculum together. The project's vision involved ways of learning together with the students' voices and authority as central. Dozier cooperated in 1972 with the Folger Shakespeare Library on a project to help 10th graders learn about Shakespeare. When she was 57, in June of 1975, Dozier took early retirement with 33 years of retirement credit.

Throughout her public school teaching, as in her continuing ministry, she was known as a demanding yet caring teacher. She was both a born and an increasingly experienced teacher, one who worked diligently at her craft. Her high standards and disciplined classroom reflected respect for her students, convinced as she was that they could master a rigorous curriculum. Her specialty was teaching English Literature, which she grounded with a historical approach. She particularly delighted in introducing students to poetry and plays, often having them memorize and read aloud. As a teacher she emphasized that the "authority lies within students," as opposed to what she experienced as a public school structure that demeaned students by imposing others' authority upon them. Other lessons were learned as she made the transition from a segregated to integrated school system. Students and faculty were at first appalled at the differences in buildings and equipment. The days of civil rights also brought Dozier increased opportunity to learn more about black literature and to share with her students an "inordinate pride" when they discovered a poem was by a black person and when they and she knew in "our very souls" how good that poem was. Dozier was committed to upholding what she saw and experienced as the worthiness of students who daily had to defend themselves against racism. Teaching English literature where writers were involved with religion, allowed Dozier to bring up religious questions and teach about the prophets and religious life. Her own religious life was integrated into her teaching. All through her ministry of teaching, keys to understanding Dozier are her enjoyment of and her appreciation for the struggles of young people and her insistence on standing against oppressive structures.

Verna Dozier is best known today as a teacher of scripture, and an advocate for the ministry of the laity. Over the past 30 years few of her contemporary followers have known much about her public school career, although the lessons and principles learned in public school continued to inform her work as a religious educator and consultant in church systems. Dozier's reputation as a public speaker and religious educator offering workshops on studying the Bible began to extend far beyond the mid-Atlantic region when she began working with women's groups. In 1969 Dee Hahn (later Dee Hahn-Rollins), a volunteer working with women's ministry in the Diocese of Indianapolis, invited Dozier to do a Bible Study for women there. Dozier became Hahn's mentor, teacher, lifelong friend, and Dozier's literary executor. Hahn, in the 1970s, was leader in the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) nationally. She helped Dozier gain wider recognition as an Episcopal conference leader, first at diocesan, then provincial, and national gatherings. A highlight of Dozier's career was serving as one of three speakers and leaders for the 1976 Triennial Meeting of the Episcopal Church Women. Marion Kelleran and Carman Hunter, well-known Episcopal educators, were her colleagues. Over the next two decades Dozier would be an invited speaker, retreat and workshop leader in all of the provinces, most of the dioceses, and many of the parishes in the Episcopal Church. As recently as 2004, Michael Curry, the Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, valued Dozier's theological and prophetic insights so much that he ordered hundreds of copies of Dozier's book, The Dream of God (1991), to use as the basic study guide for diocesan conversation about mission. Curry called Dozier "his Moses." As a result, the vision statement of that diocese speaks of "a community of disciples following Jesus Christ into God's dream for us and all creation." In addition, Dozier was often invited to serve as a Christian Educator for other denominations and ecumenical groups.

In the late 1980s as an adjunct instructor, Verna Dozier co-taught two courses at the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia with New Testament Professor Barbara Hall. One course opened up the complexity of using Bible verses to address or solve social issues. The other course centered on studying and researching the impact of a parable in Jesus' time and in the contemporary world and then preaching on that parable. Proclaiming the biblical Word in the pulpit was, as Dozier believed, a risky business because it called upon clergy to admit to the congregation that they did not have all the answers and that they were actually on the same journey as parishioners. Not surprisingly, Dozier was a courageous preacher, whether preaching at her home parish of St. Mark's or for a national conference. She regularly spoke prophetic truth to power "as she saw it." In 1992, Dozier preached for the consecration of an Episcopal bishop, Jane Holmes Dixon, Suffragan Bishop of Washington, was one of only a handful of lay women asked to preach at an Episcopal consecration. Dozier was an occasional leader for continuing education events at Washington's College of Preachers. She was respected by many in the seminaries of the Episcopal Church. She was awarded two honorary doctorates from seminaries and offered three Commencement Addresses: at the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia in 1993, the Episcopal Divinity School in 1995, and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in 1997.

Verna Dozier also worked as a consultant, focusing on leadership education for groups and individuals. From the mid-1950s she was associated as a volunteer and later a staff trainer with the Mid-Atlantic Training and Consulting, Inc. (MATC), an ecumenical consulting group for Organizational Development and skills training. By the 1970s Dozier served as a Co-Trainer for the one year Organizational Development Program offered at MATC. After its founding in 1974, Dozier was as well a regular participant in the Washington based Alban Institute, an ecumenical group that worked on strengthening congregations with practical and experienced consultants. It was here that Dozier, as a workshop leader, expressed her conviction that laity needed to claim their authority in the world. Two Alban Institute staff members, Loren Mead and Celia Hahn, enabled Dozier, through taped conversations, to write The Authority of the Laity (1982). She served as a trainer of consultants for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the national Episcopal Church. Though she was never enamored of travel and she valued her creature comforts, Dozier traveled twice to Kenya on a "Women's Leadership Project" organized by Jane Watkins and Dee Hahn-Rollins for the National Episcopal Church and the Province of Kenya. In this project, which intermittently spanned 1984-89 over two week periods. In the morning Dozier would teach Kenyan women approach to scripture study replete with new ways of looking at and using the Bible, and in the afternoon other team members would teach leadership skills. Dozier modeled being a teacher of teachers, offering fresh questions and demanding approaches for others to pursue.

The public presence of Verna Dozier was commanding. Her voice was mellifluous and dramatic whether she was reading, often from memory from the Bible, reciting a poem by Howard Thurman or another beloved poet, or recalling the mighty words of her favorite biblical prophet Amos. She could read a hymn text out loud more musically than many could sing. She had an ability to make students of all ages attentive to the Word. One remarked that when Verna (who typically asked to be addressed as "Verna") proclaimed the "mighty acts of God" it was "as if we were all there." Yet Dozier was more than an orator, she was a Socratic teacher encouraging new understanding by asking often blunt questions. "Are you content to worship Jesus?" she once asked a Bible study group. For Dozier, beginning with the questions, and not the answers, was the "A-1 principle in teaching." Grasping the challenging implications of her questions and assertions often led students to open up new questions about the Bible, the institutional church, various forms of ministry, structural oppression, the nature of good leadership, and the responsibility of all people of God to live up to their responsibility to seek what she called the prophetic "dream of God." She encouraged all Christians to know the biblical story in its large sweep and its prophetic emphases, rather than in small textual snippets. In each and all of these responsibilities she urged learners to embrace and exercise their own internal, God-given authority critically and in conversation with others.

Her emphasis on the prophetic nature of the Bible was always at the center of her vocation as a Christian Educator, whether as a consultant, trainer, teacher, public speaker or author. Here she was leading others not to single answer responses, but rather to an unfolding comprehension of the work that God has called each person to address in the church and more particularly in the world, which she and other biblical theologians have identified as "God's working place." Her grounded definition of mission was the people of God struggling and groaning to become agents of reconciliation in the world. She focused the biblical story on leadership and justice, not one or the other, and was, like the prophets she so admired, a passionate advocate for the dispossessed. For many her approach was radical. She described herself as "radical," yet said that for some her prophetic stance was muted by racism: "I probably am one of the most radical voices in this church today but people respond to me with great affection and love because I look like Aunt Jemima. I sound like Sojourner Truth, but they don't pay any attention to the Sojourner."

As an author of Christian education materials, Verna Dozier's career commenced with guidelines for studying the Bible. In addition to writing about Bible study in 1978-79, she prepared three audio recordings about her approach. Her first published book was aptly entitled Equipping the Saints: A Method of Self-directed Bible Study for Lay Groups (1981). Her basic method involved clarifying what the passage was saying, clarifying why this passage was preserved, and reflecting on what the passage means to its readers and to the church today. Throughout her publishing career she would focus on books, pamphlets, and videos to emphasize that laity, not just clergy, need to use critical biblical resources: dictionaries, commentaries, and multiple translations that allowed for a multiple hearing of voices and not one translation or interpretation. How I Read the Bible (1986) and her contributions to In Dialogue With Scripture: An Episcopal Guide to Studying the Bible (1993) are a few of her published resources that emphasized that Christians must "study" the Bible to live it in the world. The reluctance of some laity to take up this work, and her experience teaching scriptures in parishes and conferences, led her to write what for many years was her signature book: The Authority of the Laity (1982). In this small, tightly-written volume Dozier traced the history of the church from the whole people called by God with a high calling, to modern manifestations of the church as an institution where laity deferred their authority to clergy and saw "ministry" as something the ordained did. She encouraged laity to believe that "they were accepted," insisted that God's love is boundless," and advocated moving "from Sunday Christians to Monday Christians" at work in the world. Supported by colleagues and friends at the Alban Institute, notably Loren Mead and Celia Hahn, Dozier continued to underscore in her writing and teaching the hard work that laity had to do both "learning what God has done in Christ," and knowing their own discipline and work in the world. The Calling of the Laity: Verna Dozier's Anthology (1988) was compiled by Celia Hahn with a list of authors and subjects favored by Dozier. In it, Dozier emphasized that religious authority came with baptism, that there were no "second class citizens in the household of God," and that the "ground on which we stand is holy."

The last book on her own, The Dream of God: A Call to Return (1991) was her most sustained and now popular work as a Christian Educator. In it she reiterated and expanded upon several themes in her long ministry as an educator. Trying to tell the hard truth about the ways of contemporary faith, her unpublished title for this volume was "the sorry journey from we to me." At times railing against the privatism and sentimentalization of God's story, Dozier recast the biblical story as that of a God longing for people to take up the dream of God's shalom for all people in the world. She urged her readers to live into their "high calling as coworkers with [their] Creator." Her challenge was against superficial forms of living the tradition, and her desire was for Christians to become an authentically Gospel-shaped people, working for constant reformation in the church and for justice and compassion in society. These and related themes were reiterated by Dozier in multiple articles, audio and video tapes, and interviews, as was the importance she gave to encourage the leadership of women, blacks, homosexuals, young people and others disadvantaged by circumstances of their birth or subject to structural social injustices.

In 1993 with James R. Adams, a friend of long standing and Rector of St. Marks, Dozier co-authored Sisters and Brothers: Reclaiming a Biblical Idea of Community . The book was written at a time when women's place in the church and the world was for many an up-hill road. These authors sought to ease the way for equality between women and men, drawing upon biblical references and their own experience. In videos, tapes, and retreats, the theme of equality as God's dream for humanity was raised again and again as Dozier decried racism, tensions between Jews and blacks, and the notion that men and women had to play different roles. She was a consistent advocate for gays and lesbians. She saw their exclusion through the lens of racism saying that we "have lost so many gifted people because of their attitude toward gays, the same as the world lost so many nifty people because of their attitude toward blacks."

As a final writing project, Verna Dozier in 1999 submitted a book proposal and manuscript on ambiguity, a philosophical concept she found central to embracing religion and living faithfully in the world. The planned dedication for this book was to her father "who planted in my mind at a very early age that because an idea was different than mine, it wasn't necessarily wrong." Dozier was fond of noting "nothing is either/or, it's always mixed." A draft 1999 manuscript on ambiguity remains, which was partially drawn from taped conversations with Carol Blakeslee-Collin. Dozier's only published reflections on this theme, a topic which increasingly preoccupied her thoughts, is found in articles and interviews by Julie Wortman in The Witness (1995-1998). An extensive list of Dozier's publications is included in this profile.

The organizations that Dozier was associated with were mostly church related. Some of these were the Mid-Atlantic Training and Consulting, the Association for Creative Change, the Washington based College of Preachers, and the Alban Institute where she was a valued and influential "utility infielder" variously talented as a workshop leader, speaker, consultant, political advocate, etc. Within the Episcopal Church, and in addition to the multiple ways she led and assisted at her home parish of St. Mark's, she served on the diocesan Standing Committee, on the Commission on Ministry (once as its chairperson) and in several other capacities. As a contributor to the life of the national Episcopal Church, Dozier was an elected member of the Board of Examining Chaplains and the Church Deployment Board.

Verna Dozier's personality was complex and often conflicted. She enjoyed being cared for, and was grateful that her sister Lois bought her clothes, did the cooking and cared for her in many ways. Dozier dedicated The Dream of God to here sister Lois, "a ministering angel." Dozier was courageous in the face of the powerful, yet she was afraid of bugs. Verna Dozier lived in her mind and had a very deep serious side. She regularly noted that there was a cost and a promise to every decision. She led a biblically articulated life, referencing daily decisions alongside biblical wisdom. She was like another lay biblical theologian, William (Bill) Stringfellow, in that she experienced both the freedom and the cost of striving for discipleship. Dozier could also be very, very funny, and at times exercising her ironic wit. For example, as a Christian Educator she very much valued her position as a lay theologian. The story is told that when the Diocese of Washington was considering a successor for Bishop John Walker, several people, citing the historical precedent of Ambrose of Milan, suggested nominating Verna. She responded to the suggestion by saying that "at her stage in life, she was not willing to accept a demotion from lay person to bishop." Some experienced her as a "sweet old lady," while others found her rude, blunt, and arrogant. She could be impatient at times, and at other times encouraging and willing to explain.

She had a passion for lifelong friendships and her deepest emotional connections were with women: notably with her sister, Lois, with Dee Hahn-Rollins and her family members, with Vera Pierce (d. 1985) and with Pierce's longtime roommate Janis Hoffman. Early on, clergy were often her colleagues in teaching, writing, and prophecy. Throughout her life she loved to have long conversations about the Bible and about its contemporary implications with laity and clergy, and she was always exchanging books, both scholarly and popular, with friends. She admired the mysteries by Amanda Cross, Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael stories, and Star Trek: The Next Generation . Dozier, from her 70s on, often spoke of death, and reflected in 1999 that she did not have the "courage" to commit suicide, though she would not label suicide a sin. In her later years she was lovingly attended, read to, and supported by the friends named above, plus many others.

Verna Dozier has been honored in her lifetime. In addition to the two honorary degrees from Episcopal theological seminaries, Dozier received in 2004 the first Bishop Chane's Award in the Diocese of Washington for extraordinary contributions to the diocese. In 1999 St. Mark's dedicated the "Dozier Clerestory Window" designed by Brenda Belfield. It depicts the prophet Amos in the marketplace, challenging merchants for their corrupt practices and mourning the people who are falling short of the dream of God. The two young women in the window represent Verna and her sister, Lois. So much money was raised for this window, with well over 300 contributors at the time of its dedication, that with the remained funds the "Dozier Family Educational Fund" was established for students graduating from Dunbar High School who were seeking a college education. This fund is administered by St. Mark's and awarded annually. In 1997 the Episcopal Church Publishing Company, which published The Witness and continues on-line as a strong advocate for social justice, awarded Dozier the "Vida Scudder Award" for her achievements in "reclaiming scripture study and religious vocation for all the baptized." At the same time they offered thanks for Dozier's "insight, humor and appreciation of ambiguity. Today Dozier is often cited in sermons. A passage from Dream of God has been set to music by contemporary Episcopal composer, Carl Daw. Within a year, a book with selections from Verna Dozier's writings, published and unpublished, will be forthcoming from Church Publications.

As her physical abilities became more limited, Verna Dozier moved with her sister Lois in 1992 into the Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Maryland, where they occupied individual apartments. The death of her younger sister in 1998 proved unexpected to Dozier who had always anticipated to "be taken first." Indeed with that ironic sense of humor Verna Dozier explained in 1990, "I had planned to die at age seventy. I had explained that to God on no uncertain terms." Currently Verna Dozier is a resident of Collington Episcopal Life Care Community. There she is a patient under care with advanced Parkinson's disease, which has progressed significantly in recent years. Dee Hahn-Rollins remains the executor of Verna's literary and personal estate.

Addendum: Verna Dozier passed away September 1, 2006 of complications from Parkinson's disease at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville.

Works Cited

The major manuscript source is the Oral History of Verna J. Dozier compiled in 1990-91 by Dr. Mary S. Donovan, a historian of the Episcopal Church. This document is now located in the Archives of the Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas. The Dozier sisters destroyed most of Verna Dozier's personal correspondence and family papers. For other documentation, I am indebted to Dee Hahn-Rollins for sharing material from her private collection and similarly to Janis Hoffman for written and oral information. Hahn-Rollins also supplied transcripts of extensive interviews of Verna Dozier conducted by Carol Blakeslee-Collin in the late 1990s.

  • Adams, J. R., & Hahn, C. A. (1975). Learning to share the ministry . Washington, DC: Alban Institute.
  • Arbogast, M. (1997, July-August). Stumbling in the dark. The Witness , 80, 46-47.
  • Arbogast, M. (1993, Spring). Verna Dozier: Helping people find meaning. Caring People , 6, 28-31.
  • Baxter, W., & Baxter, J. (2003). Building church: Memories and myths . Washington, DC: St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
  • Cattau, D. (1990, December). For ultimate teacher, it is questions that count. Episcopal Life , 4.
  • Horne, M. (1999). Verna Dozier: Prophet of justice. The Living Church , 219 (5), 10.
  • Thompsett, F. H. (1999). Living with history . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.
  • Wortner, J. (1998, May). Ambiguity and conflict. The Witness , 81, 20-22.
  • Wortner, J. (1998, April). Ambiguity: The essence of faith. The Witness , 81, 22-23.
  • Wortner, J. (1995, March). Joining Christ on shifting ground. The Witness , 78, 10-11.

In addition to Dee Hahn-Rollins and Janis Hoffman, the author wishes to express her thanks to the following people who shared recollections: Al Rollins, Jim Adams, Marcus Borg, Michael Curry, Jane Holmes Dixon, Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, Loren Mead, Cynthia Shattuck, Fred Taylor, and Devon Anderson.

Contributions to Christian Education

The contributions of Verna Dozier to the field of Christian Education have been variously and multiply assessed. Her central vocation throughout her life was teaching, and for many she was the "ultimate teacher," as well as a teacher of teachers. Reclaiming the study of scripture for those who wanted to embrace critical and contextual biblical study was certainly the first of her most significant contributions. The study guides she provided for lay groups were empowering, practical, and accessible. They encouraged diverse interpretations to come from a diversity of people and places. The inspiration and encouragement she extended to clergy to ground themselves in biblical understandings of love, justice and the mission of God were scripturally based. Dozier wanted to get "to the core of the biblical tradition" to ensure that scripture's central overall story was learned and relearned by those who professed to follow Jesus. Her demands for study, and she emphasized the word "study," of the scriptures were considerable, expecting all learners to use commentaries, dictionaries, multiple biblical translations, and other scholarly resources. They were to read large segments of texts, not small bits or verses, and they were to consider the context that produced and then preserved these stories. For those who saw, heard and worked with her in person it was impossible to ignore the fact that she led a biblically articulated and referenced life. She was not, of course, the only religious educator to encourage study of the Bible, yet her witness was one of the most pervasive at a time when the Episcopal Church, among other denominations, sought to advance critical and broadminded methods for studying scripture.

Her second significant accomplishment was championing and reviving the importance of the laity in God's vision for the world, and in the leadership of the institutional church and in their ministries in the world. She labored to teach the laity to claim their authority given in baptism and to shape their ministries accordingly. She persistently focused on the work of laity in the world. Her mentoring of adults learned had direct applicability to the lives of those with whom she worked. Since Dozier was not shaped by the Episcopal Church institutionally, she was able to be an effective critic of the institution. Although she was personally and professionally a strong supporter of clergy, few have been stronger than Dozier in their analysis of the dangers of clericalism. She re-envisioned laity and lay education with a surer, stronger foundation than most if not all of her contemporaries. Like a prophet, Dozier was able to speak words of judgment and inspiration, and to call people, powers, and principalities to account for their actions.

Two other aspects stand out in this highlighting of her major contributions to the field of Christian Education. She was grounded and not just interested in experiential learning. Whether from her work as a high school teacher and curriculum developer, or as a leader in the Teachers' Corps, or her consulting experience in leadership and organizational development, Dozier knew that person's lives, their daily and major experiences, shape and condition all learning. The real education for this Christian was not "what you believed," rather "how you lived" in the world.

She knew that teaching from the scriptures would touch people's lives in many diverse ways. There were few absolutes, but grounding in the biblical story was at the core. She was a good storyteller, drawing stories again and again, whether from Shakespeare or the Bible, to open up learners to social transformation in their ongoing and daily experience. She firmly believed that studying the Bible and living the faith in accord with the core tradition would help individuals and communities live in more just ways, personally and societally.

Secondly as a Christian educator, Dozier, like Paulo Freire, emphasized the authority of learners and helped them overcome their sense of powerlessness to act in their own behalf. Whether in high school, or among the laity, or for learners of any age, authority lay within the learner. It was not imposed on them from the "outside' by a "real" expert. They were authorities of their own lives. It is not surprising that her brief history of lay ministry was entitled, The Authority of the Laity . Dozier literally trusted her students, whether seminary students or participants at a youth event, to accomplish difficult and demanding work in studying the Bible. She championed the authority of all the baptized. She literally urged and challenged laity to learn on their own without an ordained person or other "expert" to guide them or tell them what to believe. She believed lay learners and clergy alike were alike on a shared path, following God's dream for creation.

As a religious educator, her emphasis was on an educated church, not just a learned clergy. For Dozier the central definition of the Christian story was "about a God who cared enough about that God's creation to struggle for it." It took all of the people of God, clergy and laity alike, to carry on that struggle in the larger society, the church, and in their daily lives. It is not too bold to suggest that she made adult Christian Education more popular for many laity and clergy who did not often trouble to go outside their parish to hear an inspiring speaker.

Pedagogically, Dozier put her emphasis on asking questions. She would quote the orthodox theologian, Karl Barth, who once said that the Bible is not there is give us answers. The Bible is the place where God asks the questions." For Dozier this emphasis on the questions was a profound religious principle. For example, in her final public address, a commencement sermon, she described why the story in Acts, about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, was one of the most successful biblical lessons. "What made this a good Bible study? It started with the questions of the learner. All learning begins not with the answers of the teacher, but with the questions of the learner" (1997, Commencement Address, pg. 8).

As a religious educator she frequently named and brought in stories about racism and other forms of societal oppression. She was an advocate of oppressed peoples everywhere in society and in the church. She was an early supporter of the movement for the ordination of Episcopal women to the priesthood and episcopate, as well as an advocate for gay men and lesbians. Dozier encountered oppression not only with biblical insight but also by drawing upon her own family experience, and drawing deeply from her broad familiarity with African American literature and culture. These were familiar resources in her high school teaching. She continued the practice of naming racism and oppression of the poor and dispossessed in over 30 years of work as a Christian educator. She described herself as a "radical," though she believed that many people did not take her seriously. She noted once, "they did not believe that this little fat old lady is a radical." Both sexism and racism, she believed, muted her impact. The fact that she was a lay person caused some in the church to discount her, yet for many she was a prophet.

Finally it is important to emphasize the practical leadership skills that Dozier brought to Christian Education: she was knowledgeable about leadership training, designing meetings, facilitating conflict resolution, consulting with a wide variety of non-profit groups, presiding at meetings so that all might participate, serving on a non-profit Board, developing and directing a project, and even concluding evening meetings no later than 10 pm. Like most good religious educators, the small details of facilitating learning did not escape Dozier.

Who did Verna Dozier influence? There are many whose names are known, many parishioners, and many more at adult education events who encountered her only once or twice. Dozier was a popular and demanding teacher and educator, whether in high school classes, religious adult education events, public speaking and preaching, or national church and ecumenical conferences. People remember, often quite vividly, the influence she had on them. A thirteen year old participant at an Episcopal Youth Event, who is now a mature clergywoman, recalls to this day the "huge positive impact" Dozier had on her understanding of faith and doubt, even remembering what she had said about the story of the Prodigal Son. Other students and learners of all ages tell similar stories. For many Dozier was simply "the ultimate teacher." Along the way she modeled being a teacher of teachers. She was always delighted to hear from her students in later years, many of whom wrote enthusiastically of her lasting influence on them.

Generations of clergy and other leaders were and still are influenced by Dozier's writing and teaching. Her colleague Jim Adams, after his 30 year tenure as Rector of St. Mark's, became the founder and President of the Center for Progressive Christianity, an ecumenical organization that represents much that Adams learned from and with Dozier over the years. Earlier on Loren Mead, founder of the Alban Institute, acknowledged the mutual influence that he and Dozier had upon one another. Those who were bishops in Washington during Dozier's lifetime, particularly Angus Dun, John Walker, Jane Holmes Dixon, and more recently John Chane and Barbara C. Harris, have acknowledged their debt to Dozier's prophetic voice. These and many others took from Dozier messages about the significance of being grounded in the large biblical story and God's dream for the world. Dozier underscored the choice that Christians face between "transforming" and "conforming," and her commitment to universal, structural justice. As Bishop Barbara Harris noted in 2004, when we listen to Dozier's words we are drawn to "witness to Christ in a society sorely in need of transformation."

Michael Curry, now the Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, has described Verna as "his Moses." Curry utilized The Dream of God as the primary resource for shaping the diocesan vision. He testifies to her theological and prophetic insights as offering him and others a personal and radical call to challenge superficial forms of religious living. The last word about Dozier's influence belongs to Marcus Borg, one of today's foremost New Testament scholars and an author of many scholarly and popular books about Jesus. Borg has described Dozier's book, The Dream of God , as a "small masterpiece." He often recommends it for Dozier's persuasive, powerful, and insightful writing. Borg refers to Dozier in his books, and he has used her title, "The Dream of God," as the title for a chapter he wrote on God's passion for justice in his book, The God We Never Knew (1997). Perhaps Borg gives us closing clues about what Verna Dozier in person and in print represents as a religious educator. This small powerful masterpiece, Verna Dozier, is the much beloved, justice seeking, baptized child of a loving God with a powerful dream for all creation.



  • Dozier, V. J., & Adams, J. R. (1993). Sisters and brothers: Reclaiming a biblical idea of community . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1991). The dream of God: A call to return . Cambridge, Massachusetts: CowleyPublications.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1988). The calling of the laity: Verna Dozier's anthology . Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1986). How I read the Bible . Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1983). The authority of the laity: A study guide . Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1982). The authority of the laity . Washington, D.C.: The Alban Institute.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1981). Equipping the saints: A method of self-directed Bible study for lay groups .Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.

Chapters in Books

  • Dozier, V. J. (Contributor). (1996). Living the Word: Reflections on the revised common lectionary . Washington, D.C.: Sojourners.
  • Dozier, V. J. (Contributor). (1993). Worship that works: Model sermons for year B, 1993-1994 . New York: The Episcopal Church Center.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1993). In L. L. Grenz (Ed.), In dialogue with scripture: An Episcopal guide to studying the Bible . New York: Episcopal Church Center.
  • Dozier, V. J. (Contributor). (1985). In D. Hahn-Rollins, & J. T. Surles, Women in development: A manual for leadership training . Kenya Rural Area Women's Project, Church of the Province of Kenya and Overseas Development Office, The Episcopal Church in the USA.


  • Dozier, V. J. (1996). Prayer in the calling process . [Pamphlet]. Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement.


  • Dozier, V. J. (1996, November). Leaning into rigidity. The Witness , 79, 24.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1994, November). Fulfilling the time. Sojourners , 23, 35-36.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1994, September-October). Turned upside-down. Sojourners , 23, 28-31.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1994, August). Living bread. Sojourners , 23, 36-37.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1994, July). Where will God dwell? Sojourners , 23, 30-32.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1994, June). Seeking the new vision. Sojourners , 23, 30-31.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1993, December). Singing the song of angels: Howard Thurman's enduring influence. Sojourners , 22, 15-18.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1993, March). Living into ambiguity. The Witness , 76, 10-12.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1990, May). Saying "yes" in a "no" world. The Witness , 73, 8-9.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1987). Further thinking on the ministry of the laity. On Target: Adventures in Ministry,Inc. [Episcopal Church Archives], 2 (2), 2-3.

Selected Addresses and Sermons

  • Dozier, V. J. (1985, Spring). ACC: Challenged to make a difference. Address to the Association for Creative Change annual conference (1984, June). Journal of Religion and Applied Behavioral Sciences , 3-5.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1993, April). Sermon at the consecration of Jane Holmes Dixon as suffragan bishop of Washington (1992, November 19). Virginia Seminary Journal , 33-34.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1983, December). Commencement address (1983, May 14). Virginia Seminary Journal , 6-7.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1997, Fall). Praying the Lord's prayer (May). A commencement sermon for the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Ratherview , 8-9.

Audio Recordings

  • Dozier, V. J. (1992). Discovering the whole story: Biblical narrative through the church year (Cassette Recording). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1989). She has done a beautiful thing: Women and the New Testament (Cassette Recording). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1986). God, women, and I (Cassette Recording). Austin, Texas: Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1985). Spirituality under judgment: The Lord's prayer (Cassette Recording). Atlanta: Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1978). The story of the Bible (Cassette Recording). Atlanta: Catacomb Cassettes.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1978). How to teach the Bible (Cassette Recording). Atlanta: Catacomb Cassettes.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1977). The ministry to the ministers (Cassette Recording). Atlanta: Catacomb Cassettes.

Video Recordings

  • Dozier, V. J. (1996). Mary Magdalene: An intimate portrait (Video Recording). New York: V.I.E.W., Inc.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1992). An interview with Verna Dozier (Video Recording). Nashville, Tennessee: EcuFilm.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1992). Faces on faith: Verna Dozier (Video Recording). New York: Trinity/UMCom.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1987). The story of the Bible (Video Recording). North Carolina: Kanuga Bible Study Institute.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1985). What Episcopalians believe (Video Recording). Waco, Texas: Word, Inc.
  • Dozier, V. J. (1979). The authority of the laity: A four session program complete with study guide (Video Recording). Washington, D.C.: The Alban Institute.
  • Dozier, V. J. (n.d.). Verna Dozier looks at Luke: A study of the parables (Video Recording). San Antonio, Texas: Department of Christian Education, Diocese of West Texas.


  • Wortner, J. (1998, May). Ambiguity and conflict (Interview). The Witness , 81, 20-22.
  • Wortner, J. (1998, April). Ambiguity: The essence of faith (Interview). The Witness , 81, 22-23.
  • Wortner, J. (1995, March). Joining Christ on shifting ground (Interview). The Witness , 78, 10-11.
  • Erdey, S. (1991, Winter). The ministry of all believers (Interview). Books and Religion , 18, 79.
  • Donovan, M. S. (1990). Interview of Verna J. Dozier for the Episcopal Women's History Project (Interview). Transcript in the Episcopal Church Archives.
  • Hahn, C. (1977, January). Talking about lay ministry with Verna Dozier, lay person, teacher, consultant (Interview, 1976). Action Information on Lay Ministry . Washington, DC: Alban Institute. Episcopal Church Archives.

Book Reviews of Dozier's Work

  • Bush, P. (2002, January). [Review of the book Equipping the laity ]. Presbyterian Record, 126, 41.
  • Leue, M. (1993). [Review of the book Sisters and brothers: Reclaiming a biblical ideal of community ]. Journal for Living, 7.
  • Thompsett, F. H.. (1992, Summer). [Review of the book The dream of God: A call to return ]. Anglican Theological Review, 74, 404-405.

Secondary Sources: Books and Dissertations

  • Thompsett, F. H., & Kujawa-Holbrook, S. (Eds.). (2005). Deeper joy: Lay women and vocation in the 20th century Episcopal Church . New York: Church Publishing.
  • Baxter, W., & Baxter, J. (2003). Building church: Memories and myths . Washington, DC: St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
  • Schmidt, R. H. (2002). Glorious companions: Five centuries of Anglican spirituality (pp. 287-97). Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Erdmans.
  • Thompsett, F. H. (1999). Living with history . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.
  • Smith, R. A., Jr. (1997, May). Sojourning with sojourners: A plan for mutual ministry. Doctoral Project Report, Bangor Theological Seminary.
  • Hahn, C. (Ed.). (1977). Inter/Met: Bold experiment in theological education . Washington, DC: Alban Institute.
  • Adams, J. R., & Hahn, C. A. (1975). Learning to share the ministry . Washington, DC: Alban Institute.

Secondary Sources: Articles

  • Dixon, J. H. (2004). Honoring Verna Dozier. The Witness. Retrieved August 11, 2004, from The Witness website at
  • Hahn-Rollins, D., and Hoffman, J. (2003, September). Verna Dozier, warden emeriti. The Gospel According to St. Mark . St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.
  • Dixon, J. H. (2002, January 28). God gives us his mandate, just as he makes a promise. The Washington Times .
  • Episcopal Church Women: Call to action. (n.d.). Retrieved on August 13, 2004 from the Episcopal Church website at
  • (1997). Passion for teaching and for the Bible comes together in Verna Dozier. Senior Link , 4 (3). Episcopal Senior Ministries, Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
  • Monroe, Ann. (1997, November). Does the Bible tell me so? How Americans misread the good book. Mother Jones .
  • Arbogast, Marianne. (1997, July-August). Stumbling in the dark. The Witness , 80, 46-47.(1993, Spring). Verna Dozier: Helping people find meaning. Caring People , 6, 28-31.
  • Cattau, Daniel. (1990, December). For ultimate teacher, it is questions that count. Episcopal Life , 4.

Secondary Source: Episcopal Church Digital Archives at http:/

  • Watkins, Sherry. (1999, June 30). Author and speaker Verna Dozier honored in her home church. ENS 99-100.
  • Horne, Martha. (1999). Verna Dozier: Prophet of justice. The Living Church , 219 (5), 10.
  • Nakamura, Patricia. (1997). Peace and justice groups urged to look at past politics. The Living Church , 214 (12), 6, 8.
  • Nakamura, Patricia. (1997, March 7). Peace and justice summit illustrates church's continuing commitment to issues. ENS 97-1710.
  • Nakamura, Patricia. (1995, March 16). Television portrait of Mary Magdalene to air. ENS 95055A.
  • Nakamura, Patricia. (1992, December 3) Consecration of church's second woman bishop "points to the future." ENS 92237.
  • Cormier, Jay. (1992, May 13). Verna Dozier and "The dream of God." ENS 92117.
  • Ross, Nan. (1990, September 26). Don't be shy about your gifts for ministry, Verna Dozier tells bishops' spouses. ENS 90247.
  • Ross, Nan. (1990, July 10). Under one roof participants told to seek justice for others. ENS 90173.
  • Ross, Nan. (1985, February 28). Dozier, film highlight total ministry conference. ENS 85046.
  • Ross, Nan. (1981, May 14). Cable television series set. ENS 81154.
  • Ross, Nan. (1980, February 7). Role of educators affirmed at conference. ENS 80036.
  • Ross, Nan. (1979, November 29). Most clergy on file at church deployment office. ENS 79369.
  • Ross, Nan. (1977, December 7). Clergy divorce subject of conference. ENS 77397.
  • Niednagel, Eugene. (1976, July 21). Dozier, Kelleran, Hunter to address women's triennial. ENS 76239.
  • Niednagel, Eugene. (1976, April 23). Report on church's new teaching series received. ENS 76153.


  • (2004). Bishop Chane's Award, Diocese of Washington, presented annually to an individual or group who has made an extraordinary contribution to the life of the diocese. Dozier was the first recipient of the Award being a "pioneer in popularizing theological reflection among the laity."
  • (1999). Dozier Clerestory Window, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Washington, DC
  • (1999). The Dozier Family Educational Fund
  • (1997). Vida Scudder Award, Church Publishing
  • (1993). Doctor of Humane Letters, The Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia Warden Emeriti, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Washington, DC
  • (1988). Doctor of Divinity, The University of the South

Sermon References

  • 256 retrieved via Google on August 9, 2004

Excerpts from Publications

Celia Hahn. (1977, January). Talking about lay ministry with Verna Dozier, lay person, teacher, consultant. Action Information on Lay Ministry . Washington, DC: Alban Institute.

One of the things that I most value about my ability to open up the Bible to people is that since I don't have any professional training in that field, I can model what I'm talking about, that the Bible is not a closed book that only professionals can open.(n.p.)
The word 'vocation' comes from the word 'call' and I've always had a very high vision of that. Now that I'm retired from the school system, my vocation is being involved in a hundred different things that have to do with the church. And I'm very responsive to that now because I'm not dodging anything out there in the world to work in the church. If you have enough energy, your vocation can express itself in both places. I love to teach, and I spent a lot of time developing those skills, which can be used either in public education or Christian education. (n.p.)

Dozier, V. J. (1982). The authority of the laity . Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.

It is important that we understand the Bible as model for how we live our lives, not as a rule book. The issue that the Bible raises is, in light of what God has done in history, what kind of response do I make in my daily life? (p. 13)
What we have done is make an idol out of the Bible, to make it the fourth person of the Trinity. (p. 14).
If I believe that there is a loving God, who has created me and wants me to be a part of a people who will carry the good news of the love of that God to the world, what difference does it make when I go to my office at 9 o'clock Monday morning? What difference does it make in my office that I believe there is a loving God, that God loves me, and that God loves all human beings exactly as God loves me? What different kinds of decisions do I make? What am I called to do in that office? (p. 16)
The lay person's primary function is out there in the world. There is a problem when the church becomes the primary focus of their lives. (p. 40)

Dozier, V. J. (1988). The calling of the laity: Verna Dozier's anthology . Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.

There are no second-class citizens in the household of God. Religious authority comes with baptism, and it is nurtured by prayer, worship, bible study, life together. (p. 115)
What happens on Sunday morning is not half so important as what happens on Monday morning. In fact what happens on Sunday morning is judged by what happens on Monday morning. (p. 115)

Dozier, V. J. (1990, May). Saying "yes" in a "no" world. The Witness , 73, 8-9.

In a world that exalts whiteness, maleness, youth, I live by a faith that whiteness, maleness, youth is not the best part of reality - nor the worst either - but only part of reality and indeed, without blackness, femaleness, age, a very incomplete part. (p .8)

Dozier, V. J. (1991). The dream of God: A call to return . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.

The biblical story is always to be prefaced by, 'This is how the faith community that produced the record saw it.' It is never to be absolutized as 'This is the way it was.' The story always points the way to an understanding of God that is greater than the facts themselves. I think any understanding of the biblical story that fails to see it as a human response only pointing to the dream of God is itself an idolatry. (p. 67)
The important question to ask is not, 'What do you believe?' but 'What difference does it make that you believe?' (p. 105)
Back when I first started talking about ministry, it was seen as something the ordained did. Lay people had no ministry at all except as they participated in the work of the institution. If you taught in the Christian education program, you had a ministry. If you taught in the public schools, you 'did time' five days a week until you could get to your ministry. When I began my second career, people would say, 'You taught school for thirty-two years; then you began your ministry.' … In my unredeemed way, I would steel myself and reply through clenched teeth, 'No, I continued my ministry.' (p. 140)
Do you want to follow Jesus or are you content just to worship him? (p. 143)
The urgent task for us in the closing years of this turbulent century is to reclaim our identity as the people of God and live into our high calling as the baptized community. (p. 145)
The separation of the body into clergy and laity was not intrinsically sinful. . . .The sin lay in what we did with the division, assigning to one part the designation that belonged to the whole people of God - holiness. Baptism was no longer all that was necessary to identify the chosen. We had to pile on ordinations and consecrations. (p. 148)
What I understand about God is not God. Even Jesus was understood to be the fullness of the Godhead bodily , not the fullness of the Godhead. Jesus was not God. That is a paradox the institution dare not wrestle with because it can purvey only certainties. We are faithless people who demand certainties. The institution, the faithless shepherd, doles out certainties to us and is rewarded with our unquestioning allegiance. (p.147)

Dozier, V. J. (1992, November 19). Sermon at the consecration of Jane Holmes Dixon as suffragan bishop of Washington. Virginia Seminary Journal (1993, April).

The Church of God is all the people of God, lay and ordained, each order with its unique vocation, the lay order to be the people of God in the world, to witness by their choices and their values, in the kingdoms of the world, in the systems of commerce and government, education and medicine, law and human relations, science and exploration, art and vision, to witness to all these worlds that there is another possibility for human life than the way of exploitation and domination; and the vocation of the ordained order is to serve the lay order, to refresh and restore the weary souls with the Body and the Blood, to maintain those islands, the institutional church, where life is lived differently but always in order that life may be lived differently everywhere. (p. 34)

Dozier, V. J. (1993). In dialogue with scripture: An Episcopal guide to studying the Bible . Linda L. Grenzed. New York: Episcopal Church Center.

A Scripture community has a passion for justice. It is intensely interesting that in our religious life, we have talked much about love, but little about justice. Justice is the most fundamental concept in the Old Testament and is almost ignored in our study of Scripture. Justice is about life in community. We are more individually-minded than community-minded. Religion for many of us is very individualized, private, and personal. We wax eloquent about love and say not a word about justice. Love without justice is sentimentality. (p. 16)

Dozier, V. J., & Adams, J. R. (1993). Sisters and brothers: Reclaiming a biblical idea of community . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.

It is important to be mindful that before God we have all missed our high calling. We have participated in, and profited from, a social and economic system that has contributed to the undoing of some of our sisters and brothers. (p. 124)

Dozier, V. J. (1997, May). Praying the Lord's prayer. A sermon at the commencement of the Episcopal Theological School of the Southwest. Ratherview (Fall).

Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are praying revolution. . . . Help people to pray it, with all the cost and promise of that. "Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." A call for a world turned upside down - or as one young man said to me, "No, Verna, it's a call for a world to be turned right side up." A fallen world lifted up, a new heaven and a new earth. That's the end of the story, and we are called to be a part of that. (p. 9).

Books and Monographs

Dozier, V. J. (1981). Equipping the saints: A method of self-directed bible study for lay groups . Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.

Introduces and outlines Dozier's basic method which involved clarifying what the passage was saying, clarifying why this passage was preserved, and reflecting on what the passage means to its readers and to the church today. Significant segments from scripture were to be discussed, rather than a verse by verse presentation. The presentation is accessible and practical for lay groups.

Dozier, V. J. (1982). The authority of the laity . Washington, DC: The Alban Institute.

Essential reading for understanding Dozier's advocacy of ministerial authority for all Christians, and especially for lay members of churches. This volume recasts in tightly-drawn arguments the ways that the modern church has strayed from the biblical vision of the whole people of God into a private, clericalist, and overly churchy format. Dozier calls laity to account when they shrink from exercising their authority. She offers them the good news that they are accepted by God's "boundless love" and encourages them forward from their Sunday worship to the essential ministries of their daily work in the world.

Dozier, V. J. (1991). The dream of God: A call to return . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.

Aptly called a "minor masterpiece" and whole vision of biblical prophecy, this book presents how the church has again and again fallen away from God's dream for creation. Telling the hard truth about the failures of contemporary religion where Jesus is worshiped but not followed, railing against the privatism and sentimentalization of God's story, Dozier recasts the biblical story as that of a God longing for people to take up the dream of God's shalom for all people in the world. She urges readers to live into their "high calling as co-workers with [their] Creator."

Chapters in Books and Study Guides

Dozier, V. J. (1993). In Grenz, L. L. (Ed.), Dialogue with scripture: An Episcopal guide to studying the Bible (pp. 15-18, 100). New York: Episcopal Church Center.

This representation of Dozier's approach to Bible study, both pedagogically and theologically, is set alongside other methods in contemporary and scholarly use at the time. Here in one page her method is presented. Christian Educators looking at this volume can assess the distinctive character of Dozier's method and theological perspectives on studying scripture by focusing on images of community she has set forth. Her emphases on justice, love, and mission in scripture study are also clearly represented.

Dozier, V. J. (1999). Cambridge. In F. H. Thompsett (1999), Living with history (pp. 55-89) Massachusetts: Cowley Publications.

Set in a chapter about the rediscovery of the laity as agents of God's mission, Dozier is one of four lay leaders presented who have challenged the church to accept the authority God has bestowed upon them.

Dozier, V. J. (2002). In Schmidt, R. H. (2002). Glorious companions: Five centuries of Anglican spirituality (pp. 287-297). Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Erdmans.

The book of short, popular biographies of Anglican divines includes a brief portrait of Dozier with six pages selected of quotations from her writings. The author describes Dozier as "re-envisioning the laity."

Author Information

Fredrica Harris Thompsett

Fredrica Harris Thompsett earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and serves as Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology at the Episcopal Divinity School. Recently her 1989 book,We Are Theologians, was published as a Seabury Classic (Church Publishing, 2004). She has written about Verna Dozier inLiving with History(1999) and is currently working on a book of selections from Dozier's writings. Karen M. Meridith was the Research Assistant for this project.