For Black History Month – A Personal Reflection

Dr. Verna Josephine Dozier (1917-2006). Teacher and theologian. Preacher and prophet. Author and mentor.

August 1975. A seminary classmate, Wayland Edward Melton,[1] returned from summer break with a breathlessly exuberant report about Verna Dozier. “This itty-bitty Black woman biblical scholar” had conducted a late-summer retreat for clergy and ordination candidates. “She was brilliant!” he enthused. “A lay person schooling the clergy about the Bible!”

In 1992, I met Verna. She was the guest lecturer on the Book of Genesis at the former College of Preachers of the Washington National Cathedral. Following her address on the Creation story, a member of the audience asked, “Dr. Dozier, scripture tells us that when God completed the creation, he commanded the woman, ‘Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ This is God’s plan! What do you, a woman, say?” Verna bowed her head, her hands clasped on her lap. After several moments, she looked up, saying, “That is a part of the story, but only a condition of life after the Fall.” The implication of her response was clear. The subordination of women was the result of human disobedience and defiance of God’s plan, thus never a part of the genius of creation. Verna, her voice rising in resonant conviction, continued, “And it is our work, the people of God, with God’s help, to correct it!”

Later, Verna, who in the mid-1950s was the first African American member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, where I later served as rector,[2] became a treasured mentor. In Verna, common sense and uncommon intellect dwelled in daily harmony. In this, she equally was adept in offering the encouragement of candid praise and the correction of principled critique.

Verna’s lessons of God’s love and justice live in me. Whenever I need a refresher, I read and reflect anew on her writings; particularly her seminal work, The Dream of God: A Call to Return.[3] In these pages, Verna speaks with the timbre of her favorite biblical figure, the prophet Amos, who declared, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”[4] Decrying how the Christian church has abandoned God’s dream to follow (and not merely to worship) Jesus, she advocates for the reclamation of this truest of callings. Through these pages, I hear Verna’s oft-repeated counsel, “Paul, do not tell me what you believe. Show me the difference it makes, the difference you make that you believe.”

© 2023 PRA

Photograph (c. 1995): Verna Josephine Dozier

[1] The Very Reverend Wayland Edward Melton (1948-1997); at the time of his death, Dean of the Cathedral Church of the Saviour, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[2] 1998-2015

[3] Cowley Publications, Boston, Massachusetts (1991)

[4] Amos 5.24

3 thoughts on “For Black History Month – A Personal Reflection

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for sharing your friend and mentor Dr. Dozier and her wisdom with us today to inaugurate Black History Month. I took the liberty of sharing your post this morning with a number of friends I thought would also appreciate what you told us about her. I loved the wonderful insight you described her sharing at the Washington National Cathedral event. And I take very seriously the contrast she made between the difficulty of worshiping Jesus as opposed to following him, as I believe he himself is said to have instructed. I find myself curious about this very wise woman and plan to try to locate a copy of the book that you mentioned, so I can learn more about her and her view of Jesus.

    I have missed commenting on your blog posts for a while. Life has been more demanding since our move and in particular during this hard winter in Minnesota. As we continue to settle in here in our new home, I’m hoping that things will slow down a bit now and allow me to get back to a more contemplative life. This is now starting to feel like home a bit more than it has. Once the streets and sidewalks are more passable and less treacherous, it will feel even better, I think.

    I hope you and Pontheolla are well. I look forward to your Black History Month posts and learning more about people and history I do not yet know. I have been participating in a class for the past few months that is based on Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands. It has been a profound experience for me, leading me to look much more to my body’s feelings and reactions rather than to my intellect to understand human interactions in a way that has been foreign to me until now. It’s a new and valuable tool for learning about racial healing and understanding.

    Much gratitude and love to you, Paul, as always,


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul,

    I agree with Karen, I’m looking forward to your Black History Month postings!!! I love that you started with Verna!! What a Saint! I’m so sorry I wasn’t at St. Mark’s early enough to meet her in person. I am definitely a better person for having read her Dream of God book.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. My dear Karen, so grand to hear from you AND I look forward to receiving, reading, and reflection on your ruminations via the lens of your “body’s feelings and reactions.” As you might have surmised, I tend to live in my intellect. In part, as a reflection of my parental cultivation in me of what my father oft called, “the life of the mind.” And, in no small measure, because I long-ago learned to distrust my feelings, which tend to run rampant o’er a wide range of sentiment. As I have aged, I have come to a place of greater acceptance of myself (aye, my self), which summons me to acknowledge my feelings — all of them. Again, I look forward to your self-examination and discoveries.

    My dear Loretta, yes, “The Dream of God” is a priceless treasure. And, yes, I am sorry that you did not have the benefit of knowing Verna in the flesh. I also am sorry that see did not know you. Each of you, for me, is as Divine gift. I thank God for Verna and I thank God for you.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close