I am currently leading a Walking Retreat in upstate New York - near Lake Keuka, one of  the Finger Lakes.

Here's why I find such days such amazing times.


Complete wholeness – of stillness and silence.

As in the absence of interruption or invasion by iphones or imaginations. We stand, gazing at the beauty spread before us, hardly daring to breathe.

This is what we came for, this is what we saved for and trained for. This is the vacation with a difference for which we had dreamed and yearned.

A Pilgrimage.

A long walk with a difference because it is a long walk with God. Intentionally wanting to find Him.

And find Him we did –  in the glories of creation, in one another, in our uplifted hearts.



And we found the gift of TIME.

Time to be, time to be with God.




Isn’t that what so many of us crave? Time out, we call it.

Time to do something different, BE something different, in some place different.

Pilgrimage has been part of the Christian tradition for centuries. It’s not always been a part of mine, until some 10 years ago, when I was asked to lead one. I discovered that the daily walking, the lack of distraction, the determination to keep going, opens up opportunities for the still small Voice in ways I could not have found elsewhere.  I’ve led many since then, and each one has had its ups and downs, literally and metaphorically. Each one has been special. Sometimes the sun has shone, sometimes it has almost snowed.

On one occasion, we plodded along, one foot then another, one foot and then another. It was hailing, cold wet hard hailing. “All hail King Jesus …” someone began to sing. There were giggles and groans. One foot in front of the next foot.  Onwards and upwards. We had walked a mere 17 miles the previous day. 83 more to go to reach our destination.  One foot then another. The hail turned to sleety rain and tried to invade the scarf wound around my neck.  It was June, it was England, it was Pilgrimage at its worst. And maybe at its best too, for we spurred one another on, sang to God in spite of the cold, and appreciated even more the day when the sun finally emerged.



A mere 100 miles, each of the weeks of Pilgrimage in England, walking the ancient pilgrim paths and sheep-herding byways, from Chipping Campden to Bath Abbey. Some 60 miles in Tuscany, along the Via Francigena, from San Gimignano to Montalcino.  (Those names, they roll romantically round the tongue, inviting and enticing!)

Sometimes in silence, sometimes in prayer; sometimes singing, often laughing; taking time out from daily lived busy-ness, purposely spending time waiting to hear God speak into the rhythm of walking.

Nothing else to do – suitcases moved by unseen angels, meals awaiting us at the next destination along the way. An evening time of devotions – a short thought; some worship; prayers. Maybe Compline. Sharing our journeys, helping each other along.


Pilgrimage is a time of challenge – physically and spiritually.

It is a leaving behind – of daily routine, of family and friends, of expectations.

It is a purpose filled week of deliberately stepping aside and stepping out, in faith, to find God in ways never previously experienced.

It can be a difficult time. No good to pretend it’s easy, however much one has tried to get fit, practice, walk the extra mile.

It’s not the usual walking.

And yet, into this challenge, this sacrifice of normality and time and effort, God speaks. Whether it’s the chill of an English summer or the heat of an Italian one, there is something unusual, something special, something incredible, about this intentionality. So often we don’t know God, don’t hear His voice, because we don’t take the time to stop – really stop, or step out of our comfort zone and wait.

Wait for Him to speak into our hearts.

The Pilgrims are always amazing people. On each Pilgrimage I’ve led there have been people in pain – pain from living, pain from past wounding, pain in this journey. But they keep walking.


And each time, God has stepped into people’s lives – sometimes right then and there, sometimes later when reflecting. But God always speaks – if we take time and trust Him to do so.

“It truly was a life changing experience for me; and I met with God in a way I’d never done before.”

The Via Frangicena is another ancient Pilgrim route – from Canterbury to Rome. I Pelligrini (the pilgrims) walked it as an act of devotion to God, as an act of contrition. They carried little other than the walking stick, the hat, the cloak and the backpack.

Sometimes they ‘walked’ on their knees. They had no idea when they set out as to whether they would ever return, after such a long and dangerous journey. But their contrition and devotion drove them out and on, dependent totally on God, their fellow pilgrims and the people they met along the way.

When we first walked a part of it (Tuscany in July) the sun beat down mercilessly, our skins scorched and our tongues stuck with thirst. Yet we gave up relatively little compared to I Pelligrini of old.

And what of us? You and me?

How far would you be prepared to walk in order to empty your life of its everyday busy-ness, its tests and trials, its screaming loud insistence?

What do we need to sacrifice in order to hear that still small Voice?

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jer. 6:16

How much do you yearn for the rest, the silence, the stillness, in which to hear God?

What might you do in order to take time to hear that still small voice?



The Revd Penelope Swithinbank is an international speaker and leader for Christian conferences, Pilgrimages, Retreats, Quiet Days and women’s events. She loves hiking, reading and travelling.  Author of ‘Women By Design,’ she is a Spiritual Director, blogger, wife, mother and grandmother, and is about to open a Retreat house – in an old Cotswold farmhouse, a place of spiritual sanctuary for those who need time away, especially those in Christian leadership. 

Website and Retreat details: www.ministriesbydesign.org


Blessings, burial, burdens – on a Bank holiday weekend!

Blessings There is so much for which to be grateful, always, daily, everywhere. But this weekend has been an especial blessing  - even in our tiredness and brokenness (see below). Friends came from far and wide to lend a helping hand or two on Saturday. Anjeanette from Virginia, Stacie from Colorado,  (yes, really, that’s where they are from and they were here to help!)  Allyson and Charlotte from north London,  Andy and Chris from Wiltshire. Together they scraped and painted and stripped (the walls that is) and in just a few hours made such a difference.

To have friends help, pray, support makes the venture seem a possibility  - even though there is still so much to do, so far still to go. The danger of course is that we try to do it alone, in our own strength, and think we can cope. We can’t; we none of us can.

Only God has the resources we so desperately need – and on Saturday He sent us good kind friends to work hard all day!  They each were and are a blessing to us and to The Vine @ Mays Farm.


We buried the time capsule on Saturday – well, laid it where it WILL be buried once the floorboards are nailed down! The Trustees of MbD chose Charlotte’s entry as the winning entry to the  competition, and it was a blessing to have Charlotte there!

In a tin which commemorates the 60 years since the Queen’s Coronation (and that was the year Kim and I were born, too, so doubly auspicious!) we placed the items Charlotte suggested – a Bible, a small holding cross from Bethlehem, a copy of my book Women By Design, photos of the renovation works so far, the first MbD brochure.

Then we placed the tin ceremoniously in its hole, before  taking time in prayer for Mays Farm, asking for blessings on it, blessings for those who may come and stay on retreat over the years to come, blessings on the village  - and sweetly, they prayed blessings on Kim and me.

Which brings me neatly to the burdens …


Why are we Christians often surprised when the enemy attacks? If God is at work, Satan doesn’t like it and will get in wherever he can – particularly where we are most vulnerable.

So we need prayers for protection!

Would you pray with and for us? Please? We can’t do this without your praying support – and much as I hate hate hate asking for things, I realize that we DO need to ask you for this! Along side the enormous sense of gratitude for all the many many blessings poured out on us, not least the provision of Mays Farm, we would love your prayer support!  I read these words this morning:

Ps 35:7 Roll thy was upon the Lord (Kay’s translation)  “Way means a trodden path, the journey of life, today’s life. Often when we cannot lift a thing we can roll it … Roll everything that concerns you upon the Lord. Roll it again, no matter how many times you did before, and then rest, ‘assure thyself in Him and He, He Himself, will work. ‘ (Derby) “   - Amy CarmichaelPlease pray that we will be able to roll and rest and be reassured!  But specifically:


  • Kim has had a cough and poorly chest for over three weeks. After the first week he went to the doctor who gave him an inhaler. After the second week she gave him antibiotics. Now, he is still feeling under par (thought a golfing expression here was just the right note!) and still coughing – and badly coughs at night which keeps us both awake so we are tired and irritable and sleep deprived.  And in the tiny Bolt Hole there is no-where else for me to sleep to get away from the cough!  SO he is finding it hard to cope with the physical work and foremanship. Please pray for healing for him and for sleep for us both.
  • The Bolt Hole has been on the market since Easter and has had only a handful of people look around. We’ve lowered the price, changed agents … and still nothing. It has a lot of our capital in it – which we had assumed we would have soon when it was sold and which we now  need for the rest of the renovation work at Mays Farm!  Please pray for a buyer for the Bolt Hole.
  • The first brochure is due to be mailed out both in the UK and the USA. It is essentially to do three things, listed below. It needs to have envelopes stuffed and addressed and to actually get in the mail – the UK ones hopefully before we go the USA on Thursday! Please pray for reception of the brochure and for  financial provision for the ministry.                                                    1)    to bring awareness of the work of Ministries By Design to as many people as possible

2)    to raise finance for projects such as the Chapel and the MbD office

3)    and a bursary fund for those who need to come on retreat but can’t afford it (mostly clergy!)

  • Yes, we are flying to the USA on Thursday, for 2 weeks. The first week is holiday and staying with our daughter and her family; and the second week Penelope is speaking on a women’s retreat in upstate New York and Kim is meeting with a group of pastor friends (they get together at least once a year for mutual support and prayer – and golf!)  Please pray for refreshment and renewal; and for the Retreat talks and walks.
  • The rental property in Bath that we have owned for a long time and rented out  for years has become a real headache. Without going into too much detail,  Please pray for the Lord to sort it out somehow!
  • We will be holding more Saturday work days when we are back – June 15 and 22. The house and gardens will be most grateful of any possible help. Please pray that people will come and kindly give some very practical assistance!
The hole for the large bifold doors to form a garden/breakfast room
  • We have to get the furniture and all our belongings out of the Vicarage by the end of June ( and what a blessing it has been to be able to leave it there all this time!) Please pray that there will be at least a space large enough to store it when it arrives even if we can’t unpack.

Seven items for prayer!

Could you pray one a day for us for the next little while? And might you let us know if you are doing this?

It would be a vast and glorious blessing to have your support! Thank you.

2 Corinthians 1 was given to me today:

"We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety."

Thank you for your prayers already!