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Marriage Encounter (M.E.) is a religiously-based weekend program designed to help married couples by reason of discovering or re-discovering the need for God in their lives, to improve their marriage, grow closer to each other and improve commitment to each other. Originally a Catholic marriage renewal program for the enhancement of the Sacrament of Marriage and encouraging conjugal spirituality, Marriage Encounters are now offered by a variety of Protestant, Jewish, as well as Catholic faith expressions. Most all of them are open to couples of any or no religious persuasion.
The weekend programs usually begin on a Friday evening and conclude Sunday afternoon. Although they are not retreats in the classical sense, everyone stays the entire time at the hotel or other lodging facility where the program takes place.
Over the course of the weekend, attending couples are encouraged to communicate with one another with mutual respect, but always based upon the essential premise of inviting God into their lives. Organizers say that a Marriage Encounter is not a traditional spiritual retreat, marriage clinic, group sensitivity training, nor is it a substitute for counseling. Team members are not marriage counselors. Couples may benefit from learning the communication methods that may parallel some counseling methods.
A further attraction of Marriage Encounter weekends is the opportunity for M.E. alumni couples to meet periodically for renewal meetings after the weekends, called "spirals" or "continuing dialogue groups" in many Marriage Encounter programs.
Marriage Encounter began in 1952 when a young Diocesean Laborer priest in Spain, Gabriel Calvo, began developing a series of conferences for married couples. The conferences focused on developing an open and honest relationship within marriage and learning to live out a sacramental relationship in the service of others. For approximately 10 years the "marriage teams of Pope Pious XII," as the presentations were called, traveled throughout Spain with this series of conferences for married couples. In 1961, these conferences developed into retreats beginning in Barcelona, Spain, as a Catholic marriage renewal movement, known as Encuentro Conjugal. It eventually spread across Spain and later in the world through the Christian Family Movement (Movimiento Familiar Cristiano). In 1966, Fr. Calvo and a couple addressed the International Confederation of Christian Family Movements in Caracas. The Weekend spread to Latin America and to Spanish speaking couples in the United States. The first M.E. Weekend in English was held on the University of Notre Dame campus in summer 1967. In early 1969, a national executive board was formed to coordinate the development of the movement in the United States and Canada.
In the early 1970s, philosophical differences with the national leadership began to appear, and Marriage Encounter split into two separate organizations. The original group that continued more in the tradition of Father Calvo became National Marriage Encounter', became based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A group based in New York city was begun under the direction of Jesuit priest Charles (Chuck) Gallagher. It became known as Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Simultaneously, in the early 70s Jewish Marriage Encounter was formed, maintaining the format of Catholic Marriage Encounter and adding a focus on the principles from Martin Buber's "I and Thou" to recognize the unique sanctity of each individual.
The programs presented by National Marriage Encounter and Worldwide Marriage Encounter are very similar to each other, but Worldwide Marriage Encounter claims that it has a greater concern for its asserted mission of renewal of the Roman Catholic Church. Both expressions seek to elicit positive change in marriages, and in turn to help “change the world” by preparing and motivating couples to be open and outreaching as they continue to strengthen their own relationships.
In some countries the original Marriage Encounter with its clear original vision is available, along with the subsequent FIRES Encounter programs by Fr. Gabriel Calvo (Sons and Daughters Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Self Encounter, Family Encounter, Priest Encounter, Eucharistic Encounter etc.) The programs are regularly organized in Japan, Hungary, Slovakia, The Philippines.
It is estimated that more than 5 million couples in more than 100 countries have attended a Marriage Encounter or other "expressions"
Structure and process
A Marriage Encounter weekend is a process that married couples experience in the course of two or three days. The leaders, called a Presenting Team, typically consists of three trained married lay couples and a cleric (priest at Catholic M.E. weekends). The team couples share on a series of topics about specific issues, usually framed within some Biblical or religious text or concept and based exclusively on their own lived experiences, and not on learned ideas. The participating couples write out responses to questions handed out and then share their answers with their respective spouses. In the terminology of many Marriage Encounter programs, this process is called "dialogue". This process helps the couples learn to listen attentively to their partners, and then ask about things that are not clear in the supportive environment of the weekend experience.
Costs vary from one area group to another. The nationwide average for a Marriage Encounter weekend is $150 to $300 per couple, which generally covers cost of rooms, supplies, and meals. In some areas a set fee is charged up front. In other areas of the country, at the conclusion of the weekend, you are asked to make a contribution toward covering the costs (accommodations, food, and supplies).
While the program began as a Catholic church renewal program both National Marriage Encounter and Worldwide Marriage Encounter organizations have provided assistance to help in the formation of Marriage Encounter "expressions" for other "specific faith-believing communities". In addition to Catholic M.E. groups, today there are many Marriage Encounter "expressions" affiliated with Protestant denominations and nondenominational groups. There is a Jewish Marriage Encounter as well in both the United States and Israel.
Similar programs, called Engaged Encounter are available from a number of denominations, to couples considering marriage.
In December 1974, a non-denominational group, known as Christian Marriage Encounter (CME) was begun in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in December, 1974, by a couple, Emily and Dr. George Walther. It retained very similar marriage-enhancing goals and a similar format, its main distinctive being it was described as "Christ-centered" without a denominational emphasis. Its name later was changed to Christian Marriage Enhancement (CME). It quickly spread across the U.S. and into Canada. It has provided on-site retreat-seminars for missionary groups as far away as Papua New Guinea.
Priests and vowed Religious are also encouraged to attend Catholic Marriage Encounter weekends. The same principles of love, commitment and communication that help married couples stay together can be applied by the priest or Religious to his or her parish or community.
In 1979 there was created Encounters of Married Couples Association in Poland (Spotkania Małżeńskie). The method, taken from the Worldwide Marriage Encounter was slightly changed, became more religious, and has received the blessing of the / Pontifical Council for the Laity. This new Association was developed into the International Roman-Catholic Association of the Encounters of Married Couples.
In 2010 there was created Russian Orthodox Encounters of Married Couples (Saint-Petersburg Diocesan Centre "Suprúzheskiye Vstrétchi"). This Centre's method is based on the International Roman-Catholic Association's ideas, but slightly adapted for the Russian Orthodox Christian realities. The Russian Orthodox Centre in Saint-Petersburg) is friendly related with the Roman-Catholic Association, but formally, legally and ecclesiastically they both are independent on one another.
- Calvo, Gabriel. Face to Face: Becoming a Happier Married Couple. Intl Marriage Encounter, 1988. ISBN 0-936098-57-0
- "A Brief History", Worldwide Marriage Encounter of Western New York
- The Origin and Vision of Marriage Encounter by Fr. Robert White OFM
- Catholic Engaged Encounter
- Assemblies of God Marriage Encounter
- Twin Cities Marriage Encounter
- The Original Marriage Encounter
- National Marriage Encounter
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter, England & Wales
- Anglican Marriage Encounter in the UK
- National Marriage Encounter (Detroit area)
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter organization
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter Northern Indiana
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Korea
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Singapore
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Malaysia
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Canada
- International Lutheran Marriage Encounter
- Episcopal Expression, WME
- Baptist Marriage Encounter
- Methodist Marriage Encounter
- United Marriage Encounter
- Mennonite and Brethren Marriage Encounter
- Jewish Marriage Encounter in Israel
- Presbyterian Marriage Encounter
- Baptist Marriage Encounter of Canada
- Reformed Worldwide Marriage Encounter
- Marriage Encounter links
- Marriage Encounter Iceland
- Encuentro Matrimonial de Argentina
- Encuentro Matrimonial de Chile
- Encuentro Matrimonial de Colombia
- Encuentro Matrimonial de Costa Rica
- Encuentro Matrimonial de España
- Flemish Marriage Encounter
- Polish Encounters of Married Couples (Spotkania Małżeńskie)
- Roman-Catholic International Encounters of Married Couples
- Russian Orthodox Encounters of Married Couples (Saint-Petersburg Diocesan Centre)