On Sunday, October 8, 2017, Verna Dozier will be remembered and celebrated during three worship services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where she was a member from 1958 until her death in 2006. The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers will preside at morning services.
“Fear not! That is the message that runs through the Biblical story…We fear diversity. Anything that is different. We fear the different race, the different opinion, the different response, the different sex, the different age.” Those are the words of Verna J. Dozier, teacher, theologian, preacher and member of St. Mark’s for over 50 years. Like all that Verna taught and preached, the words are as relevant today as when she spoke them in 1989.
As children, Verna and her younger sister Lois had two books – the Bible and Shakespeare. It is therefore not surprising that she taught English in the D.C. public schools for over 30 years and then began her in-depth study and teaching of the Bible throughout the United States. She was a challenging teacher: “The important question to ask is not what you believe but what difference it makes that you believe.”
To honor Verna, St. Mark’s raised funds for a window in the east clerestory of the nave of her favorite prophet, Amos. The window artist was inspired by conversations with Verna who mourned, like Amos, that we are falling short of God’s dream for us. In her book, The Dream of God, Verna criticized religious leaders for holding up spirituality while ignoring social justice.
“The important question to ask is not what you believe but what difference it makes that you believe.”
Verna was a graduate of Dunbar High School and credited Howard Thurman with deepening her relationship with God. Ever mindful of being a black woman in a mostly white church, when speaking at the University of the South she told of a friend returning “from a weekend at an interracial camp, gushing, the whole weekend ‘I didn’t know I was a Negro.’ I dourly responded: They didn’t have any mirrors in that place?’”
Her book The Authority of the Laity challenges the laity to lead the church, not leave it to the institutional church to do so. Verna practiced what she preached, bringing a new way for St. Mark’s to govern itself when she served as our first female Senior Warden during Rector Jim Adams’s sabbatical.
“Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying revolution (thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). This is a call for revolution.”
Verna’s own voice was rich and deep – the voice of a prophet. Listening to her read the Bible made one hear the words in new ways. Hear her words: “Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying revolution (thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). This is a call for revolution.”