A 72-year-old white American missionary bishop of the United Methodist Church will return to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia next month to take over the ecclesiastical responsibilities of Prime Minister-Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
Bishop Ralph E, Dodge, expelled from Rhodesia in 1964 for his opposition to racist policies of then-Premier Ian Smith, was Muzorewa's choice as a replacement.
The executive committee of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church in this country, of which the Rhodesian church is still a part, last week granted Muzorewa's request for a leave of absence from his church tasks and named Dodge in his place.
Dodge, who has been living in Springfield, Mo., since his retirement, said he would try to be a "healing force" when he takes over his role in Salisbury on Sept, 1.
The American acknowledged that "there has been a question about a white man replacing a black man as head of the church there," but expressed confidence that Rhodesians would follow his leadership.
"I have no fear of not being accepted in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia," he said. "There will be questions from this side but not from that side."
Ever since the decolonization of Africa following World War II, mainline churches in Europe and America have been working to turn over the leadership of the churches from the missionaries who founded them to African Christians.
Muzorewa was one of the African churchmen groomed for leadership by Bishop Dodge.
The current prime minister was one of more than 100 black Rhodesians for whom Dodge raised funds to study in Europe and America.
Muzorewa succeeded Dodge as head of the Rhodesian church in 1968, after it became obvious that Dodge would not be allowed to return.
In a book published last year, "Rise Up and Walk," Muzorewa praised Dodge's role in breaking down patterns of racism in the Rhodesian church. Describing Dodge's leadership he wrote:
"In former years, missionaries and African church workers ate in separate dining-rooms during church conferences, only joining together for worship and discussion," Muzorewa wrote;
"Saying nothing, Bishop and Mrs. Dodge merely went to eat with the African ministers and laymen. One day the Annual Conference delegates were going to the dedication of a new church. Missionaries jumped into their cars while Africans boarded a hired bus. Many were embarrassed as the bishop [Dodge] boarded the bus with his African pastors."