From October 14-16, 1985, approximately 140 church musicians from across the United States and Canada responded to an invitation to meet on the campus of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. When this first major step was taken to organize a national Lutheran church musicians' group, there were divergent opinions about its structure, membership, and purpose. Some wanted a professional body for full-time church musicians. Others proposed a general membership open to all. Some saw an organization closely related to the structures of the major Lutheran Church bodies. Others proposed an entirely autonomous group. Some wanted to include pastors, artists, and lay people. Others wanted to keep the focus on practicing church musicians.
After lengthy and impassioned discussions, it was decided to name the organization the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. Membership was to be open to all Lutheran church musicians and the group was to remain structurally independent of the official church bodies. A constituting convention was scheduled for August, 1986. Larry Christensen was elected president and Maureen Jais-Mick secretary to serve until the 1986 meeting. Committees were formed: long-range planning, communications, constitution, 1986 conference site, and 1986 conference program. Larry Peterson was chosen editor of the newsletter Grace Notes, which was to appear first in January 1986. An invitation was extended to all to become "charter investors" by contributing $100 for the formation of ALCM.
The constituting convention of the ALCM, held August 11-13, 1986 at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, was attended by more than 200 church musicians from across the U.S. and Canada. Officers were elected, a constitution was adopted, and goals were approved. The U.S. and Canada were divided into four geographical areas to enhance regional participation. National and regional conferences and election of national and regional officers were scheduled for alternate years. Publications were projected and three areas of special concern -- ecclesiastical, education, and professional -- were assigned to elected directors.
In identifying the tasks to be assumed by the Association, eleven goals were hammered out, goals that have remained remarkably relevant throughout the history of the organization. These goals were:
- Strengthen our Lutheran liturgical heritage
- Define the role of the church musician
- Espouse professional standards
- Encourage spiritual growth
- Foster professional exchange
- Prepare guidelines for employment
- Serve full-time and part-time church musicians
- Advocate college and seminary training in liturgy and music
- Strengthen communication between clergy and musicians
- Create liaison with church bodies
- Create publications of high quality
The early years of the Association were almost totally occupied with organizational and procedural matters. Major achievements of these years were providing the organization with a basic structure, vehicles of communication, and public conferences that would serve the profession and attract a supportive national membership. Once the organizational matters were settled, ALCM took on several significant projects designed to serve the membership and the church:
- In 1987 a major effort was made to communicate to all Lutheran seminaries the need for clergy who were better trained in worship, liturgy, and music. Encouragement was given to the seminaries to add qualified staff and course requirements in those fields for future pastors.
- A similar project was undertaken in 1991 as leaders of Lutheran church bodies were formally encouraged to staff and strengthen their national church worship and music offices.
- In 1988 a professional placement service was initiated by publishing vacant positions in Grace Notes. High demand for this service resulted in the subsequent expansion to form an independent ALCM publication for placement notices. Later this service was moved to the ALCM web site, which was able to provide more timely posting information.
- One of the most successful projects was a series of rural church music workshops, which were held beginning in 1995. The events were designed to address the needs of small (especially rural) congregations that have limited musical resources.
During the past 20+ years, the Association has undergone many changes, but it has adhered to the goals that were adopted at its inception.
For a more thorough look at the early years of ALCM's history, see Carlos Messerli's article, "A 'Wondrous Thing' - Giving Thanks to God for the First Ten Years of ALCM," published in CrossAccent, no. 8 (July 1996).