A spunky Fort Greene pastor and labor organizer who transformed his church into a center for social justice is retiring — and locals are devastated to see him go.
Residents and churchgoers honored the Rev. David Dyson of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church on Tuesday at an event that was supposed to include Phil Donohue. The famous talk show host didn’t show up, but no one cared — Dyson, who led the church for two decades, was the man people came to see.
“Don’t call me Rev. Dyson,” he opened, characteristically. “It’s Dave.”
The Pittsburgh-born leader of the S. Oxford Street church — only the seventh pastor in 150 years — pushed his members to fight for gay rights and worker’s issues and against the Atlantic Yards mega-project.
Dyson made headlines — in the church press — by openly flouting the Presbyterian Church’s rule against hiring gays as church officers, an act that is considered “ecclesiastical civil disobedience.”
“We will never ever be named ‘Presbyterian Church of the Year,’ but we don’t care!” said Dyson, a Windsor Terrace resident. “There’s always things to do and always fights to be fought.”
Dyson graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1972, but shortly thereafter became a boycott coordinator for the United Farm Workers in California and even a bodyguard for César Chávez.
The union eventually sent him, his wife Sally and daughter Leah to New York — and he was lucky enough to get a job in Fort Greene by being in the right place at the right time, he said.
“What kind of church would hire an ex-union organizer?” he said. “My kind of church!”
In recent years, his activism included nuts and bolts stuff — converting the church’s bulbs to fluorescents, for exampe — and the Big Ideas, as when he rallied against the use of eminent domain to pave the way for Atlantic Yards.
The reverend’s flock doesn’t know what it’ll do without him.
“He makes you feel like you can change the world by doing small things,” said Clinton Hill resident Trish Todd, who was so moved by Dyson’s righteousness that she volunteered at a local shelter.
Deb Howard, executive director of the Pratt Area Community Council, praised Dyson for standing up for affordable housing in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill as the neighborhoods became hot spots for new development.
“Moving forward, we’ll need someone like Dave who has a finger in real issues,” she said. “It will be hard to replace him.”
Dyson may be retiring from the church, but not from community politics.
“No matter what I’ve done, it’s been a form of ministry,” he said. “The church and civil rights are all part of the same work.”
Dyson’s last day is Oct. 30. Members will throw another going-away party for him at a later date.
Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church [85 S. Oxford St. near Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 625-7515]. For info, visit www.lapcbrooklyn.org.