FGC's Couple Enrichment Program

Friends General Conference’s Couple Enrichment Program is a ministry of couples who, recognizing the divine center of committed relationships, support them through the practice of deep dialogue and other authentic sharing consistent with Quaker faith and testimonies.

In this pioneering Quaker program, a small group of six to eight couples come together under the guidance of a trained leader couple. Together they learn and practice communication skills while reflecting on the strengths and values of their relationships. The couples gain a sense of being part of a community of couples where they learn from one another about how to invent and reinvent a relationship with the Divine in the center. As one of our experienced leaders has said, "When we engage in our relationship in a conscious and intentional way, we build the Peaceable Kingdom, beginning in our own home. We can then share that power in our meetings, in our community, and the world."

Couple Enrichment certainly has helped maintain loving relationships over many years, and it has drawn us deeper into our spiritual lives. It is a privilege to be with couples and watch the love flow between them. It is an even greater privilege to see a couple again, years later, and hear that the skills they have gained along with the support of others in our community have served them well over the years.

The FGC Couple Enrichment Program began over 40 years ago with David Mace’s Rufus Jones lecture "Marriage as Vocation." That lecture led to the creation of a working group to consider how to support and nurture marriages among Friends. The need for this was described by David Mace in the Winter 1968 FGC Quarterly: "Companionship is now the central goal in marriage, and that is the simple reason why marriage is much more difficult today than it was in the past."

David and Vera Mace led a Marriage Enrichment Leadership Training Workshop at Pendle Hill in 1969 as a pilot program. The couples trained in that workshop started leading couples workshops beginning with the FGC Gathering in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, in 1970. A second training event was held at Pendle Hill in 1971. Those programs continue at the Gathering to this day.

David and Vera also founded the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (ACME) in 1973. ACME was committed to supporting family life through marriage enrichment programs. Joining with ACME in their mission, several Quaker couples were trained as leaders and then went on to train other couples as leaders through ACME and subsequently the FGC Couple Enrichment Program (FGC-CEP).

Early in the formation of the FGC-CEP, there was clarity among its leadership that the leading to serve couples included both same-gender and opposite-gender couples, as well as couples in varying stages of commitment. The program was intended to provide all couples with an opportunity to learn from other couples in a sacred space, prepared by leaders using long-standing principles from Quaker faith and practice.

Although some of the ACME leader couples included committed gay and lesbian couples in their programs, ACME did not recognize same-gender couples as leaders. After a period of discernment, the leadership of FGC-CEP pressed the officers of ACME to recognize these couples as leaders. But ACME, out of a concern about the effect of same-gender leader couples on the continuing participation of pastors from several Christian denominations, was unwilling to grant them leader status. ACME leaders worried that its fledgling and struggling organization would not be able to sustain itself and grow in light of the anticipated internal controversy. For ACME, the training of leader couples was available to couples who had the ability to be legally married, and that was—and until recently has been—between one man and one woman.

Meanwhile, the FGC program changed its name from FGC Marriage Enrichment to FGC Couple Enrichment, established a training and recognition system, and began a search for potential leaders among same-gender couples who had participated in couple enrichment workshops. In 1988 a Basic Training Workshop was conducted following the FGC Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, and at its conclusion, FGC had its first same-gender couple enrichment leader couples. Today, many same-gender couples who participate in the FGC couple Enrichment Program are recognized as married couples in their home meetings. "Couple Enrichment" continues to be the term that we believe is the most inclusive description for this ministry.

Bradley Sheeks

Brad Sheeks is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting. He and his wife, Patricia McBee, serve as leaders and trainers of new leader couples in Friends General Conference's Couple Enrichment Program.