The Academy: Miracle Or Cult?

A New Age Doctrine Guides Initiates' Lives The Master Teacher Makes All Decisions Followers Say They Are Very Happy

CBS 48 Hours, December 9, 1999

(CBS) For Clare Howard and her husband Steph, miracles happen everywhere. But mostly they happen at the Endeavor Academy in Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.

They say that it is a kind of a health spa for the soul, with its own spiritual guide: a former real estate salesman named Chuck Anderson. 48 Hours Correspondent Troy Roberts reports on their experiences.

The Howards - and roughly 500 others at the Academy - have sacrificed their careers and their former lives behind to live there and follow Anderson, the man they know as Master Teacher.

"It's mental; it's emotional; it's physical; it's a total change," explains Steph Howard. "I'm brand new."

Master Teacher's acolytes say they have found a euphoric way of life; they spend hours each day in a kind of meditative trance that they call "sessions" or "light intensives." By doing this, they say, they find spiritual healing, a fulfilled life and a guaranteed path to heaven.

"There are miracles every single day all the time," Anderson says. "I am reality. I am the only living son of God, as you would express it [in] the vernacular, and so are you." Anderson also says that he - and everyone else, too - has the power to heal.

To many, this may sound confusing. But to the Howards, it makes perfect sense. "He's a step ahead of me," Steph Howard says of Anderson.

Clare Howard first heard the Academy's teachings at a 1991 seminar based on the New Age doctrine called "A Course in Miracles." Afterward, she says, she knew her comfortable life with her husband and children would never be the same again.

She came home and told her husband that she was moving to Wisconsin and if he didn't want to join her, she would divorce him. But he decided to go with her.

They left their large Victorian house and their comfortable life. Steph Howard was a Harvard-educated doctor and his wife was a psychotherapist. "We literally had to shed everything and be willing to give up everything in order to make the change in our life," Steph Howard says.

Six years after moving to Wisconsin, they say they are very happy. "I used to be somebody who had to try," Clare Howard says. "And then of course I never got it right because I didn't know what was right."

Like many other followers, they spend their days studying Master Teacher's words, and working part time at an Academy-owned restaurant. "I have never regretted [it] for an instant," Steph Howard says. "And it's the last decision I've ever really had to make."

At the Endeavor Academy, almost all decisions are made by Anderson. "All he's teaching is his experience of the truth, and there's no reason for me to argue with that," Steph Howard says.

Increasingly, this message is being heard all over the world. The Howards are starting a center in Holland, and they recently opened a chapter in Australia.

Meet someone who decided to leave the spiritual community and who thinks it could be a dangerous group, in "Leaving Endeavor Academy."

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