So I offered to be Penelope's guest blogger! A husband has to have some uses. Yet I wanted to write this to give you, faithful reader of this blog, a glimpse of what this ministry (Ministries by Design) means to her and how you might help it be all that it could be.
Penelope has an extraordinary heart for supporting and encouraging clergy. This comes from seeing her father's life of ministry growing up as a child in a Vicarage; her husband's (i.e. me!); and now her own. All have had their significant ups and downs; and she knows full well the joys and heartaches, the privileges and the pressures of clergy life. Her passion for this ministry grows out of her lifetime's experience and from her clear sense of call both to set up a retreat centre, where clergy (especially but not exclusively) could come and be cared for and provided with a quiet, safe space; and also to be personally available for spiritual direction and personal support.
The response has been amazing. Most of those who come on retreat sit and eat their main meals with us around the kitchen table. Though Penelope does most of the work associated with opening our home, I get to observe and see people respond to her wonderful gift of hospitality and her spiritual wisdom. You can sense over the days that guests are here that change is happening - burdens are being lifted, energy is being restored, a sense of clarity and renewed calling is being refreshed. Our clergy carry a heavy burden of responsibility. They need places where they can get away from the day-to-day rhythm and busyness - even if it's just to chillax (where did that word come from?!)
However there are some real challenges that the ministry faces. On the one hand, we are extremely encouraged by the number of people booking to come and by the response of those who do. We are also thrilled to have been able to renovate this house to make it a very special place to come and stay (the aim was always to spoil and pamper the clergy - even the guys). We also set out on a path to make it as affordable as possible for the clergy to come. But this means that we need additional funds to support the ministry and subsidise those who need to come.
We would love to have an army of "Friends of The Vine" who support the activities of Ministries by Design by their prayers and by their regular giving. Have you been blessed by Penelope's ministry, her writing, speaking or tweeting, her friendship and support, or by a visit here to The Vine? Could you commit to regular support of this valuable ministry? There may be one or two who will feel called to give significantly to MbD as one of the main outreaches that they help to finance; but we hope that many others might feel that they could give between £5 and £40 per month. If there were a handful of people who felt called to give £50-£100 per month and a much larger group who gave between £5 and £40, Ministries by Design can focus on what it's called to do - encouraging and building up the church (and especially its clergy).
In the medium term our aim is to be 70% self-funding (mostly by gifts from grateful guests) but in this start-up phase, we are only at about half of that. For the last 3 months we have not had the funds to make payroll, for instance. Our trustees are helping us look at different, possible models for the future (watch this space) but for now, we would be very grateful for any donation, either as a one-off or especially a commitment to a monthly gift.
To make it easier for us all, we have signed up with BT MyDonate (online giving with even lower costs than Just Giving, which many of us will have used). If you click on the MyDonate button it will take you straight to the site where you can make a donation to Ministries by Design by debit or credit card. Better still you can click on the link here and set up your own account with BT MyDonate. This would enable you to set up a regular donation, entirely under your control and able to be altered or stopped whenever you choose. From our perspective BT take none of the money given (not a penny); we only lose the very low charitable charges that the banks levy; and BT even does the work of collecting the Gift Aid for those who are eligible, saving us a great deal of admin time (please fill in that part of the form if you qualify).
The Bible tells us not to muzzle the ox as it grinds the grain - never a very flattering picture of those of us in ordained ministry (!) but an important principle. The real question is will we care for those who have given their lives to minister to us - clergy, pastors, ministers? There are many ways we can do this, personally through friendship, through our own hospitality, by words of encouragement and so forth. But we can also do it by helping to provide a space where they can come to retreat, refresh, renew (as our tagline puts it). Any help that you can give will make a very real difference, maybe not in the life of your own local vicar (more ideas about that later) but in the life of someone else's, whether they are running a busy urban parish with many staff or looking after 8 country parishes, churches and PCC's, like our wonderful Vicar.
Penelope will be back next week - to your great relief! So thanks for reading this far and for any help that you can give.