First Fridays at the Mortons
My husband and I had just moved from Michigan to Texas for my first year of medical school at the University Health Science Center San Antonio. We walked up to the door of a house we had never visited, hand-in-hand wondering what the evening ahead would hold, with unfamiliar people, in this unfamiliar part of the country. As we arrived at the front door, we could hear the sounds of conversation mixed with laughter inside, along with the delicious aroma of cooking pizza tantalizing our taste buds. Another couple our age greeted us warmly while handing us an apron, sending us toward a buzzing kitchen to begin creating our “couple pizza” for the pizza bake-off contest! Wow! It was a Texas size welcome.
Christian Medical & Dental Associations®
by Dr. Paul and Phyllis Morton
So begins another year of our marriage ministry in San Antonio, Texas for married or engaged healthcare couples through CMDA. Every year brings a new class of first year medical/dental couples, couples just like the one above who come to our home looking for encouragement, for mentoring, for friendship. And along with them comes the return of last year’s second, third and fourth year students. Sometimes healthcare couples also return during residency, especially those we mentored while they were in school. A few times a year, those who are now practicing healthcare professionals will return to our home for a weekend visit. Phone calls, emails and cards keep us connected with many of them even 15 years later.
We consider ministering and being involved in the lives of these young couples to be a God-given privilege, as well as a way to give back to the mentors who blessed our marriage the last 45 years. Our own marriage has been enriched and strengthened as we reinforced the biblical truths we learned earlier in our marriage. Interestingly, this ministry has coincided with the marriages of our three daughters, so we had front row seats in observing these young couples within their new marriages. We learned a lot about dos and don’ts!
How We Started
Paul initially discovered CMDA as a medical student in St. Louis, Missouri. He retired from practicing medicine in the U.S. Air Force 25 years later in San Antonio, which happens to have one of the largest CMDA ministries in the U.S. As we began a gynecological private practice, with Phyllis serving as the office manager, God laid on Phyllis’ heart a desire and a need for us to be involved in some ministry together within our community. We began searching and praying over the possibilities, then were drawn to our local CMDA chapter. We explored the opportunities CMDA offered for Bible study, mission trips, large outreach luncheons and board membership. We knew marriage ministry was our place to land.
We reminisced back to our days in medical school and residency by asking ourselves this question: “What had been helpful in our marriage during those challenging days?” A thread of mentorship combined with the fellowship of other Christian couples ran strongly through those years, continuing even to this day. We began discussing the possibility of offering a venue within CMDA’s local ministry to carry on that thread of Christian mentoring and couple fellowship. “First Friday at the Mortons” was birthed, and so our adventure began.
Our Objective and Format
In the last 15 years of ministry, we’ve stayed focused on meeting this objective: “How do we encourage the couples to both stay married and catch a vision for ministry?
So how do we meet that goal? Our format for ministry keeps us focused on the goal and offers a baseline for others looking to create this type of ministry in their local CMDA community.
- Preparation and Facilitation – Start by having a planning meeting in the summer to prepare for the school year. Create a team from previous active couples and add one or two newcomers from the previous year. Encourage each student couple to select a topic of personal interests to create a plan for facilitating. Facilitation could include involving the group along with another professional couple with abilities to mentor them. This is a natural opportunity to mentor the facilitating couples before their presentation. We try to keep the discussion within an hour and ending with prayers. Student involvement is critical to recruiting, along with your current CMDA chapter’s support. “Evites” are great, but be prepared for some unexpected changes in numbers every time you meet as a group.
- Topics – If you’ve been married more than 10 years, you won’t have any difficulty coming up with the hot topics of marriage. This is an example of our yearly list:
- September: Cheap date nights in the city where they are attending professional school. We like to enhance this topic with the question: “What makes a good date to the husband versus the wife?”
- October: In-laws, parents and holidays, which is a timely topic as couples begin planning the holidays with family.
- November: Our local ministry sponsors a marriage retreat each November, so our group participates, with that serving as the month’s First Friday meeting.
- December: This can be holiday events your city offers, a service project, caroling, games or craft project with couples.
- January: Finances, as the money was spent over the holidays.
- February: Sex in marriage, including discussion of what the husband and the wife brought to the marriage. We plan the evening around Valentine’s Day and romance.
- March and April: We’ve used a smorgasbord of successful options in these months, such as communications and conflict; spiritual gifts and ministering together; game night; prescriptions for marital crisis (in which we literally use an old prescription pad with a list).
- May: Blessings and celebration for those graduating with wisdom for the future from a panel of residents and practicing healthcare professionals. We stay with the local CMDA chapter’s schedule that takes a break in June and July, with the exception of a one-week mission trip.
- Day and Timeframe – We learned it was critical to keep the same day and location as much as possible. If we changed the date, inevitably a couple would arrive at our door anyway on the first Friday of the month! So hence the name: “First Friday at the Mortons.” Fridays tend to be a date night for many young couples anyway. Later is a better time with work schedules and traffic. We try to stop at 9:30 p.m. so people who need to work early or study are free to leave. As the host, though, you should be prepared to remain longer. This often becomes a time for deeper discussion or a couple just wanting to connect with fun. We have been known to be playing board games with coffee until midnight. A monthly schedule works well for connection and cohesiveness. We often meet socially with one of the couples on the team between the scheduled monthly Fridays with an agenda of mentoring.
- Food: This gathering is not the place for gourmet food, although we have brought in a chef for demonstration while cooking together. We have also found a couple of restaurants with an accommodating venue plus an affordable menu to treat the students in December. Food costs might be negotiable with your local CMDA chapter or as your personal giving to the Lord. Meals that stretch are practical. Students love taking leftovers home, and the couples love to cook some part of a meal together, so be creative! Sometimes other professional couples will come alongside you to help with food preparation, costs and clean up. This is a way for them to be involved but not to have a monthly commitment. Students often offer to help with clean up. Let them!
What We’ve Learned
For others looking to start a local marriage ministry in their area, the following pearls of wisdom were gleaned during our 15 years of ministry.
- Stay connected to your local CMDA chapter for support and coverage.
- Develop a core team every year, even if it is only one couple. Add to the team each year with a few of the new couples that demonstrated consistent interest the year before. We do not feel this format would work well with much more that 20 couples. If your group grows that larger, recruit another professional couple to be a second host in their home.
- Be open to mentoring couples in crisis. Usually, deciding who you should mentor seems to be a chemistry that develops between you, God and the couples. The mentoring often centers around the hot topics of marriage, as the couples are looking for more intense support with advice. We try to keep them focused on God and the Scriptures, with some spiritual practices as a couple. Shower them with lots of love, and have fun times with them! When issues hit a crisis level (abuse, separation, significant parent or in-law issues, mental instability of partner), we set the boundary that unless they are receiving counseling, we would not “walk with them in the crisis” as we are not counselors. Unless you are counselors, we encourage you to back away at this point.
As you read this article, are any thoughts like this running through your head? We understand completely. We’ve been there. These are all barriers we faced and had to overcome. But don’t lose heart!
Know this can be such a critical time to offer this type of ministry to young married couples. The joys and sorrows are deep for them in these tender years. Keeping our healthcare couples married is a worthy investment for our society, along with a legacy in the kingdom of God. Your investment in their marriages with mentorship can reap a high probability of shared joys in your own marriage, as well as the treasure of those friendships for years to come.
In short, our marriage and our lives have been immensely blessed by ministering to CMDA healthcare student marriages. And we encourage you to do the same!
And Then Arrived COVID-19
COVID-19 initially stopped the usual modes of our marriage ministry efforts. However, as the weeks went by with no end in sight to the pandemic, the Lord (and phone calls from our couples) began stirring us up to create other approaches. We did three things during the pandemic to continue to encourage student couples. First, we met individually with couples at restaurants that allowed outside dinning. Second, we continued our monthly meetings by using Zoom to meet online, which allowed some residents currently training in other cities to join as well. Third, we followed the guidance from the university to limit groups to a maximum of eight people. In brainstorming with our San Antonio CMDA staff, we landed on the idea to recruit other couples to host three other student couples for dinner. We kept the rhythm of First Fridays and same topics discussed for that evening, but these meetings were occurring at different locations. All the host couples and students reported a positive experience and were happy to consider repeating the format.
However, like the rest of the world, we eagerly wait for vaccination to bring relief as we continue these measures. Some measures may be continued even after the pandemic ends, since new venues offered more involvement for more of our local CMDA council members with marriage mentoring. The negative impact of limited fellowship during COVID-19 birthed creative modes to keep that spark of warmth and community alive. “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, ESV).
About the Authors
Dr. Paul Morton is a retired U.S. Air Force OB/Gyn, who followed his military service by 10 years of private practice, with his wife Phyllis a registered nurse. He currently teaches full-time in the Engineering Department at the University of Texas San Antonio, and Phyllis is a spiritual director. Paul has been on the council of his local CMDA chapter for 15 years. The Mortons celebrated 45 years of marriage in 2020. When their kitchen table is not full of healthcare couples, they love having it filled with their three adult daughters, three sons-in-law, seven grandchildren, extended family or anyone who wants to pull up a chair around the lively family table!
First Friday Christmas indoor/outdoor venue!