In 1974 a group of Protestant couples in the Rochester, NY 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 get started, paid the cost of training the first four UPEME Team Couples, and provided Weekend supplies, and 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 a 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 to 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, Accounting Support Staff, Communications Support Staff, Development Support Staff, and an administrative assistant who work out of the UME international office in Muscatine, IA. 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 and Jill Williams; Dave and Claudia Arp; Steve and Annie Chapman; Steve and Becky Harling; and Bill and Pam Farrell.