When time stands still ....

What's it like to go on retreat?


"I've not been on a retreat before," she confided quietly as she arrived. "I'm not sure I'll survive three whole days! I'm not very good at being alone for hours on end......"

I led her past the sitting room, the library, motioned towards the chairs in the garden, pointed out the chapel and  showed her to her room.  

Gasps of delight. "I've not slept in a fourposter bed before, either!" 

She's been glimpsed at meals; and she's told me a little of what's been going on. Long luxurious hours asleep; a reading through the whole of Philippians in one sitting; browsing in the library; praying in the chapel - not with words but through gazing at the old misshapen cross on the wall and thinking through the implications of Calvary; an amble across the fields; talking with others also on retreat here; joining in Compline each evening; appreciating a midday guided Lectio Divina; playing with the dog in the orchard...

"There's really not enough time to think and pray through everything that I need to bring to the Lord," she said at last. "I'll need to come again. But I've really known His Presence while I've been on retreat. It seems easier here than it does at home, somehow."

Yesterday - A typical Saturday at Mays Farm?

Glorious day! There are retreatants in deck chairs around the garden, dozing, reading, praying ... one is in the sitting room with a caffetiere of coffee and browsing through "Country Life" .... another is still asleep ... someone's playing the piano in the chapel ....
What a privilege to be creating the space and place for people to 
#re:fresh re:new re:treat

FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T BEEN ON RETREAT BEFORE  and are not sure where to start:


part of the national retreat events for the weekend of June 13 - 15 2014

A time to step away from normal routines and try some space and sanctuary.

Ideal for those who have not experienced a retreat before.

A guided retreat but with plenty of down time.

And breakfast in bed.

Walks, rhythm of prayers in Chapel, good food, comfy beds ....

Book now for this retreat special!

arrive Friday June 13th late afternoon, depart Sunday June 15th after lunch.

48 hours of time to BE (with help on that if you need it!)


the library clock

the library clock

Designed with you in mind


You've had -  or are about to have -  your much-longed-for summer holiday. It's good. Great even. Slowing down, relaxing, enjoying a different pace of life.

But then.

Then there's a long time until the next opportunity to relax. And actually, you realise you didn't necessarily draw much closer to God while you were away. You meant to. But somehow it didn't happen. There was the pool, the sea, the sand, the wine .. things to see and words to read and new opportunities ... and and and

So now you realise that you need a specific time of being intentional about allowing God to have more space and time and closeness.

You will have as much of God in your life as you choose. 

What helps you to choose?

Maybe a special place. A few days specially dedicated to allowing the Lord to speak into your life.

"I didn't think much would happen over these few days," confided one retreatant on Friday morning. "there was no actual voice, no Damascus road experienced. But God. But God spoke in a way I hadn't expected. And I'm going home determined to allow Him to go on drawing close to me. Now I know more of how to do that. Thank you, thank you."

I hadn't done anything in particular. Just provided the bed and the breakfast tray and the morning prayer; made a few suggestions; prayed.

And God did what only He can do and He came and He drew near.

Maybe you could do with some time to allow Him to do that. Some time over the next few months when you could take a day or a few days or a week, and step off the normal merry-go-round in order to wait upon the Lord.

It doesn't have to be a silent week. It might be, but there are other suggestions too.

There will be days designed with you in mind. Some will be a single day, some will be a few days, some will be a week or a weekend. What will you choose?

A week for writers to come and write in peace and quiet and then talk and share over meals times and other times and spark each other to write.

Days for apple picking and apple cooking and apple processing; looking at how and why we are the apples of God's eye. Cooking in the amazing designer kitchen with its Aga and electric gadgets!

Blogging - learning from one other, intentionally writing and getting on to social media, sharing good practice.

Fabric days - bring your scraps, use the ones here, and stitch and sew and create, while talking and sharing together.

Creative writing - set times to write on set topics, share and learn from one another.

Young leaders - bring your questions and queries, your challenges and situations, and learn from experienced clergy leaders about setting priorities, establishing values and building teams

Women clergy - groups of younger women in ordained ministry, coming for support and prayer, and sharing with those who understand the challenges and peculiarities!

There will be others. But these are designed with you in mind.

What will you choose? What else could you suggest?

Dates will be on the website/retreats in the next week or two - I'll let you know as soon as the dates are posted, so that you can book soon and not miss out!

You 'll need a few days at Mays Farm by the time the autumn is here.

and to whet your appetite - this week's progress in photos.  Enjoy.

The front porch is clean and tidy; not painted yet, but welcoming nontheless
The back door - or are we in Provence?
Plaques for the some of the rooms arrive
Who is in which room and what they can’t eat .. week by week rota to remind me
Slient retreats - guests have breakfast in bed. Preparing the trays
Mud pies ...
…outside the breakfast room
trampling down the skip/dumpster to get more in!
rolling the heavy old stones on to the mud pies
getting rid of what was once a rockery
the courtyard is very nearly finished - complete with fire pit, which is in its early stages in this photo
Grand tidying up this week
Compline in the LIbrary by candlelight
Mission command
Last week’s walking retreat, passing through a corn field
The Library is very nearly finished
The apples are starting to fall.
Tomatoes from the polytunnel
The wildflower meadow is still flowering well

welcome - and take a pew

It's been a busy week. Within 8 days of moving into Mays Farm we had had 8 people to stay - lovely retreatants who came and took time to retreat, time to help us decorate and unpack, time to be away from 'normal' life. They coped with perpetual dust, builders everywhere - and glorious sunshine, walks with the dog (who led the way and helped them not to get lost) meals in the walled garden, communion in the library, lectio divina, prayers and meditations ... it's been a good week! And they were so encouraging.

"Thank you for not cancelling!"

"I loved my room! And especially the shower and the posh smells - that feels luxurious!"

"I wish I could stay longer and use more of the 'tools' for a silent retreat - they were really useful, thank you!"

"I loved the garden! I really mean the hammock! And the peace - and being able to do my own thing."

"I cannot tell you enough how blessed (yes, really!) I have been to come here. God has stilled my frantic heart through everything I've done and not done and for that opportunity I thank you."

"God is definitely at work in this place and throughout the building; he's working through you both too, whether you're exhausted or full of energy!"

"The daily devotional was a really important time when God spoke more clearly than at other times! Despite its unfinished state I still found it to be a place of peace and refreshment. It already feels a 'sacred space.'"

"Would love to come back when it's finished."

* * * *

Of course, they mentioned the dust .. and the noise of the builders ... and the lack of places other than the garden to sit , although the little village church proved to be a wonderful refuge too. And already there are more places inside to sit and be; and things are getting sorted. The builders are very nearly finished though, and we are daily seeing progress.So - here are a few snapshots of the latest improvements to help whet your appetite.






Booking now for the autumn so make sure you find time to come!










  • You are very warmly invited to the

    Open Day and Launch

    We would love you to come and enjoy a day in the southern Cotswolds and see what is happening at Mays Farm! 

    You've seen so many photos, now come and see this special place for yourself.

    12noon- 4pm

    Come for as long as you can - call in, or stay!

    Light refreshments served all day

    2pm short dedication prayers in the Chapel

    The Board of Trustees will all be here

    Come and see what is on offer at this place of spiritual sanctuary - 

    retreats for you, for your leadership team, for your small group

    More details coming soon



    We very much hope to see you at The Vine @ Mays Farm before too long.

     Work parties are happening on Friday July 5th and Saturday July 20th - and any day in between that you like to come, we're here working to get it ready!

    MINISTRIES by DESIGN is based at The Vine @ Mays Farm.

    The Vine @ Mays Farm
    for retreats, 
    quiet days, 
    quiet spaces,
    Spiritual Direction
    leadership training
    & mentoring
    come alone
    come with a group
    bring your friends
    your small group
    your leadership team

    The Vine is a place for spiritual sanctuary and sustenance, and the name came partly from the two Vines growing in the Orchard and partly from John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches – abide in Me.”  The Vine offers the opportunity and space you may need  to draw aside from everyday life and spend time ABIDING and BEING, waiting on God, taking time for reflection and repose.

    The house is a 17th Century Cotswold Farmhouse, renovated and refurbished to be a wonderfully welcoming and restful place. There are five large bedrooms, each with ensuite facilities. Breakfast is often served in your room so you can start gently and have time without even rushing downstairs! Lots of places for sitting and dreaming – the Drawing Room, the Library, the Chapel; or the Walled Garden -  the gardens are currently a work-in-progress during the renovations!

You are needed!


some of the old wall paper we've found! 


                  YOU ARE INVITED:
      An invitation to come to MAYS FARM on Saturday!We will be there to have fun, begin preparation/decorating

work on some of the bedrooms, dig up a few weeds, paint a gazebo ...



TIME: Arrive any time from 9.30am.

Time capsule will be ceremoniously buried at 12.30 just before lunch

Tea/coffee/snacks provided all day, but please bring a packed lunch (or you can visit the village shop or the local watering hole which is called The Star)

Any little help which you can offer will be very much appreciated - and if you can bring any wallpaper strippers/anything to steam wallpaper, strip wallpaper, wash walls, sponges, buckets, sanders .... (and work gloves if you need them) and long long electric extension leads (15m plus) that would help enormously!

We plan to have some fun, sing God's praises as we work, pray for one another .. come and join us as we really begin to see the house come together in time for the start of this new ministry.

8 people are coming so far – so let me know if you’re coming too, and if you need directions.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

And the winner of the time capsule competition is ...

  A while ago there was a competition on here, asking for suggestions as to what should be included in a time capsule to bury in Mays Farm. At the time, I couldn't imagine there would ever be a floor under which anything could be hidden!

There was mud everywhere this spring. Rain and mud outside; earth floors turning to mud inside. It looked like devastation to me - and I found it quite depressing. Would there ever be progress?

Friends kindly enquired - how is it going? Can you move in yet? Aren't you excited?

And I looked at the mud on our boots and the dust in our hair and I despaired. It was an utter disaster.


But there IS progress. Suddenly, things are happening in a different way. Instead of everything coming down, being taken apart, dug up or demolished, there is a putting together, a creating, a movement of new beginnings.

Progress is seen at last - look at the little store rooms being made into a kitchen.









So it still doesn't quite look like the finished kitchen ... but it's definitely improving.

And there's a similarity with my life and its ups and downs.

Sometimes it has felt that everything is demolished, devastated, depressed. 

For I too am a work in progress. Sometimes God has had to dig deep to remove the edifices I tried to erect, to dig out the imperfections, remove my all-too-easily constructed walls of pride and passions and perceptions. And it's painful.

Our workmen have been digging and demolishing  in order to restore and renew and recreate. And so has God -  He restores and renews and recreates my life.

If the LORD does not build the house, it is useless for the builders to work on it. If the LORD does not protect a city, it is useless for the guard to stay alert. (Ps 127:1)

Auspice Christo: built with the help of Christ.

I am learning to be patient about Mays Farm.

Please be patient with me, God hasn't finished with me yet!

There are other signs of new life everywhere around the Farm. And blossom in the Walled Garden.


Come and see! On May 18th & May 25th there are invitation days - details here.

And on May 25th we will be burying the time capsule under the elm beams of floor boards on the top landing. Come and pray with us for the new ministry at The Vine as we do this.

CHARLOTTE LEAKE: your entry was chosen by the MbD Trustees! Congratulations on winning a free retreat night at The Vine @ Mays Farm in September!


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Cor 5:17)

Might you pray for us? Pray for The Vine @ Mays Farm to be built by the Lord; pray for the ministry  of offering retreats and spiritual sanctuary; pray that all will be auspice Christo. Me and Mays Farm both.




















It's no sin to be sixty ..

Last Friday, you may have noticed, was my 60th birthday. The worst kept secret in history, said my sister, as various schemes and plans made by the family began to leak out. I knew there was something afoot!

My husband let slip that our daughter from America was coming to celebrate with me. Happy tears poured down my face when I discovered that! A picnic lunch, a special evening out with the family, some friends coming for lunch and a walk the following day .... Gradually the plan began to emerge.

I had not expected this present, however.


Nor this at the picnic lunch


Nor the fun in the sun

mini and grands

(good thing we have a long driveway for cruising ...)

Saturday. And the sun shone. Friends navigated closed motorways and horrendous traffic jams to get to Mays Farm - where there was tea in the orchard following a walk.


60th tea

tea part two


Later, some gifts to open.

A co-mother-in-law (tongue-in-cheek?) presented me with this:

no sin to be 60


It dawned on me that I really really am SIXTY. Apparently, no longer middle aged.

Third aged.

I am privileged to be there but be fit and healthy and embarking on a new season of life, ministry, home and house.

A quick scan of the little book reveals it to be a series of reflections, mini sermons, about ageing and faith, done with humour and grace. Just what I need to face this Third Age - humour and grace.

Christ was never middle aged.

Let alone Third Aged.

He was, humanly, always young. A young man in a hurry, places to go, people to meet, purposes to fulfil.

I am privileged to be able still to do the same.  But when the spirit continues to be willing whilst the flesh becomes weak, what then? What can I learn from the young Jesus Christ? A young man with a sense of urgency, of uncompromising attitudes and unrelenting purpose.

One day, one day, I will no longer be like that. I can already sense that I have lost energy, urgency - and, if I am honest, some of my hearing!  But God has not changed. He still has energy and urgency; he is still uncompromising and unrelenting in his pursuit of, and love for, me.

As Reinhardt Niebuhr wrote,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

Meanwhile, I'm out to change the world one step at a time, one person at a time.

Coming to join me?


A not-so-quiet Quiet Day

MbD planned a Quiet Day with a difference - for Easter Monday, April 1st.  Not an April Fool's Joke; more a vision of a spring-like day, people coming to spend some time joining in the Easter meditations, and then spending a few hours thinking, praying, helping out around the house and grounds. But we hadn't reckoned on the weather. Nor, that of the 14 who said they would come, most had to drop out, all for very good reasons. And when the forecast continued to promise temperatures of maybe as high as 3C with a windchill factor taking it lower, the day was cancelled.

Except that 2 stalwart friends and their (grown up) son said they would come anyway and help out for a bit and then we could all warm up with a pub lunch at half time; only the son didn't want any of the "retreat thingy" bit.

So the retreat thingy bit was put on hold - maybe for Easter next year, for it was all planned. And they and we donned our thickest warmest work gear and set out.  I chose the polytunnel - well, it's marginally warmer than the raw outdoors; and I am longing to get planting so that we have seedlings to transplant to the rest of the wilderness soon.

And as I worked, alongside a friend at first, and then alone, there was that companionable silence when there was prayer and thought and decisions. God didn't speak as such; but He felt nearer than sometimes. Experiencing God in a polytunnel is a new experience for me. But one I am already longing to repeat. I have been in again today, sensing  that it is, for me, a special place. One of those thin places.

It feels close to many of the illustrations used by Jesus. A sower went out to sow. A man planted a vineyard. (Our vine was pruned ...) A man had a field. 

Much was accomplished. Here are some before and after shots.

Tunnel before

Tunnel after



Above: found the chesse making trough, being reused/recycled at the far end

my pots

 Below: starting on the outside double privy

Liz and Matt


Double view!

loo before

loo after

loo lock

Above: beautiful carved wooden lock - for your privacy in the  privy !

Below: fresh air circulates into the privy

privy window


That was Monday. Today, Wednesday, the sun returned. I stood in the orchard, giving thanks for all that has been. for all that will be, at Mays Farm.

Tea in the orchard, anyone? In July or August? See below for how you could come and enjoy that as our guests.

tea in the orchard

Don't forget that you could come on one of the Preview (free) Retreats this summer - there are still one or two places still available, and details are HERE.  But do ask soon for your invite -  we have been amazed at the response and how many people want to come!  So ask for details and an application form and come on Retreat at this very special place!

Leave a mark - and win a free Retreat!

Time capsules. Weird or wonderful? Worth doing or will they rot  - or be unintelligible in decades to come? We are thinking of burying one beneath the floorboards. And as the floor boards are about to be refurbished and relaid, it's time to think of what might be encapsulated.

various rooms as they are at the moment! 

Photos of how it was before we started? they might fade.

A Memory stick? it might be unreadable or uncomprehensible.

So what would you put into our time capsule - what legacy might we leave to be discovered in another 100 years or so? Things that would show future generations that this is a special place, of spiritual sanctuary for those in need of space and solace, of finding time for God again, for rest and renewal and refreshment? 

Scripture verses? Maybe a Bible? Descriptions of the Retreats?

Have a think and leave a comment!

And while you are thinking, think too about our Preview (free!) Retreats for this summer - we have had an amazingly high number of enquiries and application forms are coming thick and fast so if you want to apply, send yours in very soon! Here are the details in case you missed them: an invite to join us as our guests.

The Vine @ Mays Farm will be opening September 2013. We want our Time Capsule filled and buried next week though - so jot down your suggestions and we will let you know what we choose, and post some photos!

And, the best suggestion will win a FREE NIGHT OF RETREAT, to be taken during September this year, as one of our first retreatants! (Entries will be judged by the Ministries by Design Board of Trustees and staff) Competition closes on April 2nd 2013.

We'd love that you be YOU - so get creative and think of what to put in the Mays Farm Time Capsule!





Look what we've found! And lost. And heard.

It's been a few days of losing and finding. Kim lost a large amount of cash he'd just been given by someone who owed it to him - he tucked it in his pocket but never saw it again and although we searched and searched it has not been seen again. He was at Mays Farm, working on the house as usual, and we all looked, and again the next morning, in the rain. So I prayed that whoever has found it will have been blessed by it, and that it would be someone who needs it more than we do. And if not, that they would be convicted. It's a painful amount from our tight budget! But God knows. And God provides.

doorway and wallpaper

For it's been a week of finding too!

Kim has been stripping wallpaper from the walls of a little room which is planned as a bathroom for the bed room next to it. A doorway has to be made through an old wall in order to make it ensuite.

Underneath the unattractive old anaglyptic  wallpaper was the most beautiful old vintage paper - sadly probably not in good enough state to preserve although we will try to have at least a little of it showing somewhere somehow.




He worked on round - and - could it be?

A DOORWAY. In the very place we need a doorway! Already there, but covered up, and now shown to be a rather splendid old carved doorway. No need for the cost of knocking through and creating.

Into his head popped some words:

"I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut!" (Rev 3:8)

And it seems like God's Word to us for this time.

But  God has a sense of humour:

the next words go on : 'I know that you have little strength ..."


another old fireplace!

After unveiling the door, Kim went through it to begin pulling off more anaglyptic in the bedroom.

And found a hint .. a corner ..part of a beam ..

So of course he had to rip and pull - and found –

another amazing fireplace.

Bricked up and covered and just crying out for the sledge hammer and crowbar.


He now has little strength left.

But a beautiful carved fireplace has been exposed.

carved fireplace


fireplace detail

It speaks to us of how 'unstrong' we are - this whole project, this whole ministry, will not happen if it's down to us. We have no strength.

But God.

But God can open the door for us.

And it seems He is.

Already the Preview (ie free for guinea pigs) Retreats are getting application forms  - if you'd like to come, read about them here, and ask for an application form soon!

And the Pilgrimage on the Via Francigena is now fully booked -  so make sure you book for next year if you would like to come with us!

The Not-So-Quiet Day on April 1st has some lovely people coming - might you come too and see what the Lord might want to say to you as we reflect and then work? Come and see the vintage wallpaper and the door that no-one can shut when the Lord has opened it!

It's been a few days of losing and finding.

And hearing God confirm again His calling.