Congratulations. The American Academy of Clergymen, a “Mount Everest for those who seek the highest pinnacle of excellence in their pastorial [sic] work,” has elected you a Fellow. “Many are nominated but few are chosen and given the horror of using the Academy Seal,” says the four-page brochure.

Oh, yes. Life dues are $90 for the first year.

One of the startled Fellows, former American Baptist Convention President Clarerice W. Cranford of Washington, D. C., said “it sounded just a little bit like a racket. I didn’t think it was sufficiently established—on the up and up.”

Academy Founder-President William A. Dyson, Sr., turns out to be a 33-year-old, lively, articulate former pastor of several small churches. He now works as a waterfront superintendent in Norfolk, Virginia, tb provide a better life for his family. In his dark but clean living room, Dyson, with one or another of his six children on his knee, talked eagerly of his hopes for the academy. But his face fell in “dismay” that only two dozen of the 100 prominent clergymen tapped as fellows by his “board” has accepted.

Despite the brochure’s apparent status appeal, Dyson revealed resentment against the church establishment: “The more degrees some pastors get, the less they seem to want fellowship. Statusseekers do not want to join our organization.” The academy doesn’t necessarily want Ph.D.s or Th.D.s, but pastors “who are truly concerned about their laymen.”

Until this summer Dyson’s academy had about 125 members, “mainly acquaintances I and others have made through the years.” Most, like Dyson, are Negroes, and he says the idea is to promote inter-racial fellowship and raise standards.

Laughing ruefully, Dyson said “if the brochure was misleading it was all my fault. It was an amateur effort.” Pressed with questions about the academy he exclaimed, “I feel like John the Baptist in the wilderness when the committee of priests came out to ask him, ‘Who are you and what are you doing?’ ” “You could ruin a life’s work,” he added.

Dyson said he and the four other academy founders (names not revealed) filed a notarized statement with Virginia last year as a “learned association,” but officials said they could find no such charter.

He said he studied the equivalent of three years at the University of Bordeaux while in the military in France, then got an M.A. from Christ Institute, Philadelphia, in 1963. State and federal officials, however, said no school of that name is accredited to give degrees.

Dyson was ordained first in a small Baptist group and then in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Later he went Baptist again. He says “a pastor doesn’t seem to count unless he has a huge church and lots of degrees.

“A preacher should be such a strong carrier of Christianity that like a germ it can’t help but infect you.… When a man realizes that there is no other way but Christ, he’s home.”

Dyson declined to provide a list of academy members or financial details. But he released samples of sermon materials he said are mailed monthly to members in return for their $90. A quarterly journal is supposed to start this month.


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.