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About United Marriage Encounter

Who We Are

United Marriage Encounter (UME) is an interdenominational, ecumenical Christian program to strengthen marriages.

Our primary purpose is stated in our Vision and Mission Statement, attached. What We Doloving middle aged couple hugging with eyes closed closeup portr

We present Marriage Encounter Weekends, open to couples of all faiths, backgrounds, and ages. Our Weekends are based on Christian faith and a Christian view of marriage. However, no religious doctrine is forced on anyone.

United Marriage Encounter is a Christian ministry based on the Christian faith, belief in Christ-centered marriage, and belief in the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. United Marriage Encounter does not have any connection with the “New Age” movement, the “human potential” movement, or other similar groups.

These Weekends give couples an entire weekend to focus on each other, learn how to improve their communication, and reconsider their priorities. The concepts learned on a Marriage Encounter Weekend can become ongoing tools to keep a marriage relationship strong.

Our Marriage Encounter Weekends are designed for couples who have a good marriage and want a better marriage. They are not marriage counseling and are not suitable for couples with deeply troubled marriages. We believe that if a couple don’t need Marriage Encounter, they deserve it!

Our Weekends are presented by a trained Weekend team of leaders which includes a clergy couple (ordained pastor and spouse) and three lay couples.

Any couple who have attended a UME Weekend and meet certain criteria are eligible to apply to become a Team Couple.

We offer optional follow-up activities for all couples who want them.

Our Vision:

To start a transformation in marriages that leads to stronger Christian families and stronger Christian communities

Our Mission:

In response to our call, we offer our Weekend experience and a community of caring couples who are committed to having a stake in other marriages. We will create an environment that can help transform marriages around the world. By following our mission and proclaiming God’s plan for Marriage we believe we CAN influence the world for Christ.

Our Core Values

  • We are a Christ-centered ministry. We will honor our Statement ofFaith.
  • We believe God’s plan for marriage is one man, one woman, seeking oneness and serving God and others with grace.
    We will stay focused on our specific call.
  • We believe our Weekend experience is God’s call for our ministry and can start a transformation in a marriage. We will offer Christ’s love through our Weekend experience.
  • We believe married couples deserve an entire Weekend away from everyday activities. We will create an environment for couples to focus on their relationship with spouse and with God.
  • We believe the concepts learned on a Marriage Encounter Weekend are ongoing tools to keep a marriage strong and lasting and can lead to stronger Christian families and stronger Christian communities. We will strive to help couples live out God’s plan for marriage.
  • We believe couples deserve to experience our Weekend regardless of their ability to pay. We will fund our Weekend expenses by encouraging couples to “Pay Forward”, encouraging members to support the ministry annually, and seeking other generous donors.
  • We believe to make the transformation we must have an ongoing stake in the Weekend couples’ marriages. We will support our UME Communities by upholding them in prayer along with providing activities and marriage resources.
  • We believe God expects responsible stewardship of our financial and human resources. We will maintain responsible budgets, invest in our volunteers, and conduct our Weekends economically without compromising excellence.

Our Relationship to Other M.E. Groups

We are part of the large Marriage Encounter family that was begun by Father Gabriel Calvo in Spain in the 1960s.

We are not formally affiliated with any other Marriage Encounter group, but our roots are in the traditions of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (Roman Catholic) and its many Protestant affiliates.

Our Weekend Outline is almost identical to the original Worldwide Catholic M.E. Outline. The primary differences are that our Weekend team includes a clergy couple rather than a celibate priest, and we offer an inclusive Christian worship and Communion service on Sunday afternoon rather than a Mass.

We cooperate with other Marriage Encounter groups, especially those from the Worldwide tradition. We exchange information on Weekend dates and invite married couples to each other’s Weekends.

Our Beginnings

In 1974 a group of Protestant couples in the Rochester, New York area who had attended Worldwide Catholic Weekends began planning for a United Protestant Expression of Marriage Encounter (UPEME). Len and Colleen Pagnard and the Rev. D.L. and Marilyn Baize were co-founders and early leaders.

Couple Power Inc., the Rochester branch of Worldwide (Catholic) M.E., actively helped UPEME to get started, paid the cost of training the first four UPEME Team Couples, and provided Weekend supplies, and much other support.

The first UPEME Weekend was presented in Rochester, NY in February 1975. It was originally contemplated that UPEME would be part of Couple Power Inc. and Worldwide M.E. It was expected that UPEME would primarily serve Protestant couples and Couple Power Inc. would primarily serve Roman Catholics. However, from the beginning, the Weekends of both groups were open to couples of all faiths.

Worldwide M.E. decided that UPEME could not be formally affiliated with Worldwide because UPEME did not (and chooses not to) meet two Worldwide M.E. criteria for its affiliated groups: 1) all Team Couples and 2) a large percentage of Weekend couples come from one church denomination. UPEME welcomes Team Couples and Weekend Couples from all Christian traditions.

In 1977 UPEME, Inc. was incorporated as a New York nonprofit corporation. In 1988 our name, United Protestant Expression of Marriage Encounter (UPEME), was changed to United Marriage Encounter (UME) to be more inclusive, and UME was incorporated as an Iowa nonprofit corporation. We have an IRS exemption letter establishing our status as a tax-exempt and tax-deductible 501(c)(3) publicly supported organization.

UME continues to have close ties with Worldwide and many of its Protestant affiliates, especially at the local level.


Beginning with the first expansion in 1977 to Southwest Florida, UME has since expanded to over 20 areas throughout Asia, Europe and the eastern half of the USA.

Expansion is high priority. Our Board encourages UME expansion anywhere in the world where we can present an English-speaking Weekend if there is a committed couple or group of couples willing to promote UME to be able to have 25-30 couples for each Weekend, and work with UME staff to provide an adequate Weekend facility. A Weekend is not enough; we hope to build a lasting, growing Community of encountered couples. We wait for God to open expansion doors, but respond quickly when doors are opened.

UME is governed by a Board of Directors of up to 12 married couples.

On the Weekend the couples are invited to contribute toward future Weekends for other couples. God provides through the sacrificial giving of loving couples.

Hundreds of UME volunteers around the world are supported by staff, including an Executive Director, Directors of Team & Weekend Support, Directors of Ministry and Leadership Support, and an administrative assistant who work out of the UME international office in Muscatine, Iowa USA. Some volunteer expenses are reimbursed when requested.

Beginning in 1985 UME holds conventions – we call them Celebrations – every three to four years. Past keynote speakers include Charlie and Martha Shedd, Kevin Lehman, Pat & Jill Williams, Dave & Claudia Arp, Steve & Annie Chapman, Steve & Becky Harling and Bill & Pam Farrell.

Where We Go from Here

We are one of the smaller M.E. groups in size, but we are growing fast and are willing to stretch and reach. We will go wherever God leads us, trusting Him to fill our gaps.

We see a great and growing need for UME’s inclusive approach. Our ability to include couples from all trinity-based Christian churches in our Weekend Teams, leadership, and all activities is a great help in filling Weekends and keeping Communities alive and growing.
We are free of the burden of denominational quotas on Weekends. We respect the Marriage Encounter groups which limit themselves to one denomination, but we believe God has a purpose for our interdenominational Christian movement. We believe the future of Marriage Encounter depends on Christian unity, not separation.

The need to strengthen Christian marriage is greater than ever. With God’s help, we will continue and enlarge our response to that need.

What does a Weekend cost?

The cost of attending a Weekend (room, meals, and other expenses, currently more than $720 per couple has already been paid through the donations of other couples as a gift. There is a one-time $80 registration fee. During the Weekend couples will be invited to contribute to future Weekends for other couples. Donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. United Marriage Encounter is non-profit and is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.