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The History of NALM
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By Zeni Fox, Professor Emerita, Immaculate Conception Seminary, Seton Hall University and author, "Lay Ecclesial Ministry: Pathways Toward the Future."  

A sociologist once taught me that one sign of professionals is that they gather together with others who do what they do, to learn, to advocate, to socialize.  A further benefit of engaging in this way is, I believe, that these processes strengthen a sense of identity.  The National Association for Lay Ministry is almost forty years old.  What are some of its accomplishments, and  what identity has it  strengthened?  A brief overview of its history will give a partial answer to this question.

 At the beginning, those who gathered together, before the organization even had a name, were persons responsible for the formation of laity for ministry - some priests, many vowed religious, some lay persons.  They served on diocesan staffs, at colleges, universities and seminaries, and in parishes and other settings.  Deeply influenced by the teachings about the laity of the Second Vatican Council, they came together to share their stories, to learn about best practices and challenges in formation, and to advocate for lay ministry.  After a couple of years, they formed a formal organization, the National Association for Lay Ministry.  The title is significant, in that it is not of  lay ministers, or for lay ministers but for lay ministry.  The goal of NALM was not like that of a labor union, to further the well-being of its members, but rather for lay ministry, or, said another way, for the ministry of the Church as performed by its lay members.  Central to this goal is the formation of laity, so that they are deeply grounded in the life and tradition of the Church.

An aspect of the work of the organization has been a conference each year, planned by members, held in different parts of the country, offered as a service to members and to other laity.  They come to learn from the major presentations, the workshops and each other, to celebrate together in shared prayer, especially at the Eucharistic table, and to socialize.  Keynote addresses have been offered by bishops, lay men and women, priests, and vowed religious, a setting for the Church teaching and learning, together.

 A second thread running through the life of NALM is that of collaboration.  For each conference, NALM members along with local diocesan offices and individuals engage in the planning and execution of the event.  Extensive collaboration with additional groups has also been important in NALM's history.  Throughout the life of the USCCB Sub-Committee on Lay Ministry (1994-2005) which developed the watershed document, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry, the NALM Board and many of its members were part of the dialogue.  Certainly, their experience and perspective helped to shape the final work;  in addition, they were among those invited to critique its numerous drafts.  For a number of years the Executive Director met monthly with the leaders of several other lay organizations, to think and strategize.  NALM leaders have collaborated with St. John's University-Seminary, Collegeville, in each of the national conferences they have sponsored.   Most recently, NALM leadership worked with members to outline key issues regarding lay ministry, which they brought to the Summit planned by the USCCB Office of the Laity on Lay Ecclesial Ministry.

 Founding members of NALM were deeply concerned about adequate formation for lay ministers.  For this reason, the organization was in the forefront of the effort to develop competency standards for lay ministers.  The NALM Competency-Based  Standards for Pastoral Ministers, The NALM Competency-Based Standards for Pastoral Associates and The NALM Competency-Based Standards for Parish Life Coordinators were developed, and were approved by the USCC Committee on Certification and Accreditation in 1995.  Subsequently, NALM, along with the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (each of which had developed competency-based standards for their areas of ministry) was part of the effort to create the Common Formation Goals for Ministry, published in 2000 {here add latest....}  These goals have significantly helped to shape college, diocesan, seminary and university programs which prepare laity for roles in ministry.

In the Catholic community, the designation "lay ecclesial ministry" has only been officially used for about ten years, and the description given by the United States Bishops in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord"  is such that it is used to circumscribe varied groups of people.  Throughout the country, the usage of the term varies, depending on which aspect of the description is emphasized.  Official authorization (which also has varied interpretations), a role in leadership, professional education and formation and service rendered in the church community each defines various individuals as lay ecclesial ministers, or not.  NALM has not used the varied descriptions to delimit membership in the organization.  In one way, this dilutes the development of a strong sense of identity as an LEM; on the other hand, it allows the organization to do all that it can to develop a strong sense of identity of lay ministers as ministers of the Church, with their particular calling as lay people, to serve according to their gifts and the needs they are aware of.

NALM History

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In this section you can see a history of NALM conducted in 2016 on our 40th Anniversary.
Item Name Posted By Date Posted
NALM at 40 History PDF (1.88 MB) Administration 11/13/2019
History of the NALM Code of Ethics PDF (81.24 KB) Administration 11/13/2019
NALM at 35 History PDF (135.39 KB) Administration 11/13/2019
NALM Timeline PDF (49.99 KB) Administration 11/14/2019