A universal feature of meiotic prophase is the pairing of homologous chromosomes, a fundamental prerequisite for the successful completion of all subsequent meiotic events. HIM-3 is a Caenorhabditis elegans meiosis-specific non-cohesin component of chromosome axes that is required for synapsis. Our characterization of new him-3 alleles reveals previously unknown functions for the protein. HIM-3 is required for the establishment of initial contacts between homologs, for the nuclear reorganization characteristic of early meiotic prophase, and for the coordination of these events with synaptonemal complex (SC) assembly. Despite the absence of homolog alignment, we find that recombination is initiated efficiently, indicating that initial pairing is not a prerequisite for early steps of the recombination pathway. Surprisingly, RAD-51-marked recombination intermediates disappear with apparent wild-type kinetics in him-3 null mutants in which homologs are spatially unavailable for recombination, raising the possibility that HIM-3's presence at chromosome axes inhibits the use of sister chromatids as templates for repair. We propose that HIM-3 is a molecular link between multiple landmark events of meiotic prophase; it is critical for establishing chromosome identity by configuring homologs to facilitate their recognition while simultaneously imposing structural constraints that later promote the formation of the crossover essential for proper segregation.