Church Music Certification in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

By Barthel, Alan | Pastoral Music, December 2008 | Go to article overview
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Church Music Certification in the Presbyterian Church (USA)


Barthel, Alan, Pastoral Music


The Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM) currently has three levels of professional certification for church musicians:

1. The Certified Colleague in Church Music (CCCM) has no degree requirement and two avenues for obtaining it. The first avenue is directly through PAM, and the second is through the Leadership Program for Musicians (LPM), an ecumenical program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM), and the United Church of Christ Musicians' Association.1

2. The Certified Associate Church Musician requires a bachelor's degree in music from an accredited college and fulfilling requirements established by PAM.

3. The Certified Church Musician requires that one have either a master's degree or a doctorate in music in order to pursue the requirements established by PAM.

Recognized Certification

The governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has not only recognized PAM's levels of certification but has also established broad faith, educational, and practical guidelines that form the core of the process used to obtain certification. The Book of Order, the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) states, in its description of ordination, certification, and commissioning, that "certified lay employees have been called to service within particular churches, governing bodies, and church-related entities. These individuals endeavor to reflect their faith through their work and to strengthen the church through their dedication." Further, it notes that "members of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians include choir directors, organists, ministers, and other persons interested in the quality and integrity of music in the worship experience. The association grants certification."2

According to the Church's constitution, requirements for certification include courses in polity, Bible, worship, human faith and development, and music education. Those who earn certification are advised by a reference group and are examined for proficiency in the areas of study.

The Executive Board of PAM believes that "certification is an important step in professional development and recognition within the church." To that end it "hopes that all pastors and sessions will encourage musicians to work toward achieving this goal."3

The names of those who earn certification are transmitted to the Office of Certification in the Division on National Ministries, to the Office of the General Assembly, and to the stated clerk of each presbytery.4 The constitution then directs that each presbytery "shall affirm the skill and dedication of these certified lay employees by providing for recognition at presbytery at the time of their certification and by inviting these employees to presbytery meetings, and granting them the privilege of the floor."5 These actions partially fulfill PAM's hopes for its certified musicians: "The vision is that musicians will work toward obtaining certification that they might be recognized personally, professionally, and as an integral voice in the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA."6

Why Certify?

One might ask: Why the need for a certification program at all? Partial answers can be found in various aspects of the life of the Church. Beginning with the Book of Order, one answer lies in what is missing. While there is much written on education, training, and employment issues with regard to the ordained, there is almost nothing about certification requirements for lay employees other than what has already been quoted in this article. For the ordained, there are theological course requirements that must be met and examinations to be passed, while any type of education or Church expectations for lay employees are absent.

A second set of needs is to be found in the Church's institutions for higher education that have been established for theological training, where one can go to be prepared for the ministry of Word and Sacrament and for Christian education, but there is no such Church-related institution for the ministry of church music.

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