Bishop Ralph Dodge, Who Led Church in Zimbabwe, Dead at 101

August 22, 2008

Bishop Ralph Edward Dodge, the UMC’s last white bishop in Zimbabwe and an outspoken advocate for justice during that country’s colonial era, died Aug. 8 under hospice care in a private home in Inverness, Fla., at the age of 101.

Dodge’s 1956 election as a Methodist bishop for central and southern Africa marked the only time that an American Methodist missionary was elected bishop by the denomination in the colonial territories of Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). He led the church in Rhodesia for eight years before being expelled in 1964, without explanation by the government of Prime Minister Ian Smith. Dodge had long advocated for an inclusive church and representative rule in the white-minority-led country. He continued leading the Rhodesia Area in exile, primarily from Zambia, where after his retirement in 1968, he served as chaplain of the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation.
A native of Terril, Iowa, Dodge and his wife, Eunice, went to Angola to serve as missionaries in 1936, and except for a four-year period during World War II, when travel restrictions prevented them from returning to Africa from a furlough, served in various parts of Africa until 1971.
Bishop Dodge is remembered as a trailblazer in the desegregation of the African church. Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa, the first black UM bishop of Zimbabwe, wrote about the bishop in his 1978 book, Rise Up and Walk, recalling how Dodge ate with and rode the bus with the African pastors at conferences, rather than eating in the white dining room and taking private cars to the various events.
Bishop Dodge wrote three books: The Unpopular Missionary; The Pagan Church; and The Revolutionary Bishop. He was preceded in death by both Eunice and his second wife, Elizabeth Law. — UMNS