Win two nights on Retreat at The Vine at Mays Farm

Pen &; pup .jpg

Win two nights on Retreat

at The Vine at Mays Farm

I'll tell you how you can do that in just a minute!

Welcome to our new online home! Ministries by Design has a brand new website and a dot com address -  how exciting is that? Well, not very unless you are geeky, perhaps, but even I am excited by this beautifully designed and fresh looking up-to-date site!  Designed and managed by Kim Swithinbank, this new site is where you will now find us.

So, while you are here, take a look at next year's calendar (the link to it comes in a moment)  There are lots of exciting new retreats planned - including the one that always gets an "Oooooh!!!" when I mention it: Hotel de Chocolat. A two night retreat using Chocolate as an illustration of God's extravagant grace. Lots of treats in store over 48 hours - not least hot chocolate around the fire pit and chocolate tasting ..... book soon, because there are already some bookings and places are limited! 


Because our daily lives are typically filled and busy - things to do, people to see, life to live. And all that is good. But we each need time to BE - and at The Vine at Mays Farm we offer you the much-needed opportunity to step back from the chaos in your life. We offer an oasis, a place of spiritual sanctuary, a safe space to reconnect with God.

Mays Farm - over a hundred years ago!

Mays Farm - over a hundred years ago!

There are walking retreats 

and Silent Retreats

Retreats for clergy

and retreats for writers

Retreats to help you pray for others

and times for individuals to 'do their own thing.'

What would help you most? Which would suit you best? 

Maybe you find it easiest to connect with God when you are out in the countryside...

or when you are reflecting in silence in the Chapel...

Maybe you need others to share thoughts and experiences with....

or maybe you prefer to work through things on your own....

Maybe you like your own room...

or maybe you're happy to share a twin room (and pay a little less) ....

Maybe you'd like breakfast in bed ....

or maybe you prefer to keep the crumbs in the kitchen ...

..... Whatever you prefer, there is probably something to suit you, a time when you can step aside from 'normal' life, be revived and refreshed and renewed; and allow your roots to go deeper and remain in the Vine (John 15:4) You can hop over to the calendar/list of retreats here ... but don't forget to come back to find out how to win 2 free nights on retreat.

Pilgrims walking from San Gimignano to Montalcino , September 2013 

Pilgrims walking from San Gimignano to Montalcino , September 2013 


As well as retreats at The Vine at Mays Farm, we also lead Pilgrimages. In 2014 there will be two pilgrimages for you to choose. Both are on the Via Francigena, the old pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome. It passes through glorious countryside in Tuscany, and in early June, we will walk from Montalcino to Viterbo, an 8 day holiday, with a walk of 85 miles. In very early September, another 8 day holiday will be a walk from San Gimignano to Montalcino, slightly less strenuous and 68 miles of fabulous countryside.  Click here for photos and descriptions and more information.

* * * *


Yes - any two nights at Mays Farm! You might choose Hotel de Chocolat, or the walking retreat or your own individual retreat. But your two nights will be absolutely free, and will include all meals (except lunch on walking retreats). 

To enter the free draw you can either:


HIT SHARE ON FACE BOOK  to share this post with your friends.

RETWEET ON TWITTER including the hashtag @minstriesbydsgn

For every time you do one of those things, your name will be entered into a hat and one name will be chosen by a Board Member who is here on a retreat this week! So the more times you share/retweet, the more opportunities you have to be chosen.

The draw closes on Tuesday December 11th at midnight (GMT) and a name will be chosen the next morning and the winner announced sometime on Wednesday.

* * * *

There are places still available on the ADVENT AWAY DAY on Saturday December 14th (10am - 3.30pm) but otherwise 2013 is now fully booked! Look at the calendar for 2014 and book soon.

We look forward to welcoming you to The Vine at Mays Farm. In the meantime,






For people like you

We took a photo on Friday evening  - a reunion of  pilgrims.

Pilgrims who once upon a time had ventured to fly to the UK solely to walk 100 miles. And make it an intentional walking with God.

One told my husband, “It changed my life. I’d tell anyone to go take a Pilgrimage.”

There were twelve of us gathering for dinner - an evening in the most amazing home in California,just south of the Napa valley.




A gathering of people like you - people who love the Lord, people who long to go deeper with God.

People who are busy with their lives. Weary from everyday life. But still longing to go deeper with God.

And as we reminisced about Pilgrimage, we knew that we had gradually lost something we'd found when walking.

Because vision leaks. Life takes over. And we wistfully look back at times when we have been close to God; times when we have clearly heard His Voice; moments when we felt ourselves near to Him; journeys we knew to be in step with Him. We yearn for that closeness to return; long to hear the still small voice again; remember with longing the joy and love we experienced when we first knew Him.

Sometimes it happens unexpectedly again. Joining with others in a moment of worship. Being prayed for. Glimpsing the rise of a powerful moon in a pinkly grey sky.


But sometimes we even forget that we yearn for more of Him. We are people who live life busily, every moment in our schedules accounted for, crazily careering from one moment to the next.

We are people who often forget to live our lives with eternity in mind.

Maybe we need to walk a mile or three to reconnect with God. Maybe we need to rediscover a rhythm of walking which rests and clears the mind, helping to shed the everyday problems or see them from a different perspective. Being physically active all the time, meeting the challenges of the ups and downs, knowing the accomplishment of a long day of travel and arriving tired but triumphant after depending on God and one's companions to get there.

 *  *  *  *

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. "

(Psalm 32:8; NLT)

We need to get on that pathway. Get walking so that the Lord can guide.  And sometimes making a pilgrimage is a really good way to do that. Doing it physically enables it to happen spiritually.

*  *  *  *

We're offering two pilgrimages in 2014: walking the Via Francigena, the old pilgrim route which traces a path from Canterbury to Rome. In late May/early June (dates depending on when people like you would like to come!) we will walk from Montalcino to Viterbo, a walk described as "one of the world's most unique, classic walks .... South of Montalcino the country becomes wilder, with forests, low plateaux and Monte Amiata and the wide crater of Lake of Bolsena."

In very early September, the pilgrimage will be from San Gimignano to Montalcino, the walk we did in 2013. A glorious, Tuscan trail,  characterised by paths through vineyards, olive groves and forest, and landscapes punctuated with cypress trees and walled hill towns and villages.

These Pilgrimages are exhilarating, demanding, Spirit-filled times. Mountain top experiences, literally and spiritually. Designed with people like you in mind.


If you would like to know more, ask to be put on the mailing list (email: and be one of the first to get the full details. Each walk has a total of just 12 people so register your interest now so that you can be sure of your place.

 *  *  *  *  

 And if you'd rather walk in the glorious English Cotswolds, come on one of the walking retreats at The Vine at Mays Farm. Details of the first one in March 2014 can be found here.


 *  *  *  *  

People like you, people like me - We are people who often forget to live our lives with eternity in mind.

Walking a pilgrimage can help to restore that balance.


 *  *  *  *  

Take a peek here for full details of events & retreats at The Vine at Mays Farm from now until Easter 2014 





This might cheer you up on a wet Monday morning ...

It's wet and grey and cold. Half term is over and gone; it's a long time time to your next little holiday. November is upon you and there's so much to do and organise before December 25th. So might you need a break?  Or even the thought of one booked in? Some time and space to BE. Even just for 24 or 48 hours ....

Spending the morning tucked up in bed with your breakfast brought to you, and time to read, pray, doze ....

Taking a short brisk walk across rolling countryside to clear your mind and breath deep in fresh air ....

Curling up by a roaring wood burning stove, reading, thinking, BEing ....

Ending the day with a candlelit prayer time in an ancient chapel ....

Sleeping in a large comfy bed ....

*  *  *  *

Or maybe you are in need of something more - well, proactive.  Long walks, good company, plenty of devotional input to help you reconnect with God ...

Or writing. Time and space and quiet to get those words out and through your fingers, on to the page. Not having to stop to cook or shop or work at something else, but a weekend to write knowing that others are doing the same nearby and will want to talk to you over supper about all those words ....

Or some weeding, maybe; feeling the soft damp earth crumble in your fingers, thinking of the things of the Lord as you tend the plants  ...

*  *  *  * 

And if none of the above are quite what you feel you need - there's always chocolate.

Chocolate as a reminder of the good things that God gives.  Of His extravagant grace.

Chocolate that  has to be tasted, experienced, enjoyed.

You know you love it. You know it's the answer no matter what the question. God's extravagant grace, that is.

A whole weekend to relish that grace - and the chocolate. What could be more fun than that - and to look forward to spending a dull February weekend having a blast as you go deeper into experiencing that extravagant grace.

Hotel de Chocolate indeed.

*  *  *  *

So, as you view the prospect of a November week of wind and rain, a long to-do list, people needing you, not enough time to BE - maybe you need to book yourself in to The Vine at Mays Farm and come and be pampered as you take the time to reconnect with the Lord, be refreshed, remember to remain in the Vine (John 15:4)

The new programme for January to March is available here.

What are you waiting for? Book in - you know you need it!

*  *  *  *

And if you can't wait that long ...



If you need time to think about putting Christ back into Christmas, there are still a few places available on the Advent Away Day.   Saturday December 14th. Full details if you click here




*  *  *  *

Which retreat do YOU need to have lined up, to cheer this week's rush and weather?

Where might YOU find the Lord again?

When do YOU need to come?



It's not too late to put Christ back into Christmas!


It's not too late to book in an Advent retreat!

Needing time out from the busy season?

Wanting to find the time & space to put CHRIST back into Christmas?

Come and enjoy an Advent Away Day at Mays Farm Saturday December 14th. 10am - 3.30pm

The day will include some guided reflections, some quiet personal time, and will conclude with communion in the Chapel.

£20 per person, including coffee & a light lunch

To book your place please email

Mainly for Americans - but other can sneak a peek!

I've added a couple of books on to my Kindle today. Which is exciting because it means it's nearly time to 'fly the friendly skies' and cross The Pond once again. Three whole weeks in the United States of America is fast approaching - part work and part vacation. Visits to friends and family - including Thanksgiving with the grandsons. No wonder I'm excited! And one of most exciting things is having the opportunity to meet with friends and acquaintances and soon-to-be-friends in 3 different states - California, South Carolina and Virginia.

So here is your invitation to a special event - YOU ARE INVITED!  

It would be wonderful to see you - and you can bring your friends too, anyone who might like to come to Mays Farm, or come on a Pilgrimage with us in Italy. There will be a presentation with photos and video clips; and the opportunity to find out more about future events.

Plus, find out how you can 'own' part of a 17th Century chapel in the Cotswolds.

All you need to do is email me ( to say you would like to come, and to which event, and how many you are bringing with you. You will then receive your invite with full details of the event.


The Revd Penelope & The Revd Kim Swithinbank

are back in town and would love to catch up with you & your news!

Come and hear about their new ministry

Ministries by Design:

-       retreats at Mays Farm in the Cotswolds

-       pilgrimages & walking holidays in Italy and the Cotswolds

-       discover how you can be a part of a 17th century Cotswold building!




San Rafael CA 94903

Cocktails at 6.30pm  dinner at 7.30pm

Kindly hosted by Jennifer & Ken Kroner


Friday, November 22

 Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island SC 29455.  

5:00 -  6:30pm

Wine & Cheese

Kindly hosted by Sue & Quentin Jackson


Tuesday December 3

The Falls Church Rectory, Falls Church, VA 22046

6:00 - 8:00pm

Wine and Cheese

Kindly hosted by the Revd John and Mrs Susan Yates 

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

*  *  *  *

For full information about The Vine at Mays Farm/retreats/Quiet Days: click HERE 

On next week's blog: Hotel du Chocolat.  Places will be limited so make sure you don't miss out on the opportunity to be blessed by God's extravagant grace

Questions people ask ...

What's it like to come on retreat at The Vine at Mays Farm?  Are there comfortable beds?

Is the food any good?

And what's it like spiritually  ... is it safe? helpful? How does it FEEL?

*  *  *  * 

One of the recent retreatants, who came for a couple of nights, has just posted a blog in which she describes her time here. And she has very kindly given me permission to reproduce it for you to read.

The Revd Claire Maxim is a full time Anglican priest, who blogs and tweets regularly. You can read her blog below, or you can go straight to her own website and read it, if you click HERE.





Stolen from The Vine at Mays Farm websitePhoto stolen from The Vine at Mays Farm website

No, I haven’t turned into a surrender monkey, cheese eating or otherwise. But I did run away for a few days last week, to The Vine at Mays Farm. I heard about it via Penelope Swithinbank, who tweets as @minstriesbydsgn. Mays Farm is a beautiful, and until recently decrepit, farmhouse in a small Wiltshire village. Penelope and Kim saw it, loved it, and rescued it, as part of their vision of running a retreat centre.

I’ve followed the story of the uncovering, rebuilding, and sheer toil of restoring the house with great interest, although I didn’t do anything useful to help. But once it became known that retreats could be booked, I booked.

I had the joy of being the only guest in the house that week. And it is no exaggeration to say I felt instantly at home there. Many of you who know me will know how much I like to “know” where I am, that I like to study the maps, that I can only relax once I have got the hang of the layout of buildings that are new to me. For some reason, this didn’t apply to Mays Farm at all. I did eventually study a map – I went for a walk on one morning, trying to dodge the rain. Penelope had given me a 1:25000 OS map, and some directions for different walks, all in a plastic folder. (The plastic folder is important, trust me.) I set off confidently, and then, yes, it turned into a typical Claire walk. I managed to get myself lost not once but twice, which wouldn’t have happened if I had a) followed the map correctly; b) read the directions properly; and most importantly c) some idea of which side is left and which side is right. And it poured. I was quite literally dripping wet by the time I got back.  But I had a great walk, the countryside was beautiful, I scarcely saw another soul, and my soul was restored. Knowing that I could have a hot shower and lunch when I got back helped too!

Practicalities? My room was beautiful to look at, warm, airy, and as comfortable as the bed. Everywhere was not only scrupulously clean, but cared for. The lounge was a haven with its wood burning stove, and the food…..Penelope, you are a wonderful cook!

But the feel of the place is what I will remember. I needed a safe space where I could wrestle with some difficult stuff that has been accumulating over the summer. Penelope helped me with that (she’s a talented priest who does spiritual direction). But what helped even more was the feeling of being in a place filled with love, prayer, a generous spirit and a genuine care for people. I will return.

Penelope, Kim, and Gracie the dog, thank you.

*  *  *  *

So now you know. And if you would like to come and stay for a night or two or more, get in touch (01666 838332 or email

Come by yourself. Or come on an organised retreat. 

- There are still a few spaces available on the Advent Retreats (*see below for details)

- In January and February there will be some themed weekends Hotel Du Chocolat, using chocolate as an illustration for God's extravagant grace (with chocolate tastings, chocolate fountain, hot chocolate around the fire pit in the evening ... but you don't have to like chocolate to come!) Bring your women's group and choose your weekend dates!  There's a midweek one planned for clergy February 24-26.

*  *  *  * 

Looking forward to welcoming you to The Vine  .... where you are encouraged to spend time to reconnect with the One who said, "I am the Vine, you are the branches ... remain in me." (John 15)


*  *  *  *  


Dec 9-11          Mainly for clergy and those in full-time ministry. Arrive Monday late afternoon, leave Wednesday after lunch

Dec 13-15       Weekend retreat, open to all. Arrive Friday late afternoon, leave Sunday after lunch.

Stressed already with thinking about preparations for Christmas? Needing some space to be reminded of what the next few weeks are really about?  This Advent Retreat will include brief meditations, times of silent reflection, some prayer and worship. Sit by a roaring wood burner to have some down time; enjoy a brisk country walk to clear the mind; have an early night and a long sleep in a comfy bed  - with breakfast in bed the next morning if you would like.

Led by Penelope Swithinbank, it will be fairly casual– the whole idea is to have a place and time to escape the madness of the Christmas rush! Take just a few hours to be intentional about watching and waiting for the coming of the King and it could make all the difference to your Christmas this year. 

2 nights full board: £90 per person sharing twin room with ensuite bathroom; £110 single occupation of twin room with ensuite bathroom



take a look at our new website! 

It’s the retreat part of Ministries by Design



Do you have Christmasitis?

Christmas is coming ... 


It's been in the shops for some time. Friends are boasting of starting (or in one case finishing) their Christmas present buying.

The countdown has begun. As I write, the timer tells me there are a mere 65 days to go.

I am still traditional enough that I would really like to put up the Tree on Christmas Eve and leave it up until Twelfth Night on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany.  Now, I am not holding anything against those of you who have been ready for months, but you may have a problem. You may be addicted to Christmas which can result in Christmasitis. So, to see if you suffer from this, 5 quick questions to help you determine if you have contracted this disease. Give yourself a point for every question you answer with yes.

1. Did you buy any of this year’s Christmas presents or decorations  at the ‘after Christmas sales’ in January?

2. Have you ever bought an artificial tree because real ones don’t last long enough?

3. Do you have the Christmas countdown clock bookmarked on your computer?

4. Are you convinced that this year Christmas will be even more special than ever before?

5. Have you already planned what to wear on Christmas Day?

*  *  *  *

So - do you have Christmasitis?

Are you ready for Christmas?

Normally when this question is asked, people mean do you have the tree up and decorated? Have you sent the cards out? Finished buying all the presents?

But for some of us,  “Are you ready for Christmas?”  means - Are you ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus?

Isaiah 40:3  “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ ” 

And if we are honest many of us have to say - no, not really, I'm too busy getting ready for Christmas and all it entails.

*  *  *  *  

Here at The Vine at Mays Farm, our new retreat house, we want to help you to be ready for Christmas! It's not too late to think about getting ready - being prepared - spending a few hours - to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord.  And to make it even easier for you, there is a choice of dates,  each giving the opportunity to take a couple of nights away from the hurly burly that is the world preparing for Christmas, and think about CHRISTmas.





Dec 9-11          Mainly for clergy and those in full-time ministry. Arrive Monday late afternoon, leave Wednesday after lunch

Dec 13-15       Weekend retreat, open to all. Arrive Friday late afternoon, leave Sunday after lunch.

Stressed already with thinking about preparations for Christmas? Needing some space to be reminded of what the next few weeks are really about?  This Advent Retreat will include brief meditations, times of silent reflection, some prayer and worship. Sit by a roaring wood burner to have some down time; enjoy a brisk country walk to clear the mind; have an early night and a long sleep in a comfy bed  - with breakfast in bed the next morning if you would like.

Led by Penelope Swithinbank, it will be fairly casual-- the whole idea is to have a place and time to escape the madness of the Christmas rush! Take just a few hours to be intentional about watching and waiting for the coming of the King and it could make all the difference to your Christmas this year. 

2 nights full board: £90 per person sharing twin room with ensuite bathroom; £110 single occupation of twin room with ensuite bathroom


FOR FULL DETAILS OF THE VINE AT MAYS FARM RETREAT HOUSE  - take a look at our new website! It's the retreat part of Ministries by Design

To book your place on one of the Advent retreats, either :



phone 01666 838332

Places are limited: The Vine at Mays Farm is a Retreat House with a difference. With only 5 individually furnished ensuite spacious guest bedrooms, it is intimate and never too busy. Everything is tailored to you and your needs to get away and meet with God. The house has been totally renovated and guests have access to a library, sitting room (both with wood-burning stoves) and a Chapel with a baby grand piano which loves to be played. There are also walled front and rear gardens (complete with vine) for use when the weather is clement and many lovely local walks; and underfloor heating throughout the ground floor to make sure you are cosy (bedrooms have central heating, in case you were worried!)



Come and enjoy this place of spiritual sanctuary – and warmth.

You can sit …. read …. pray …. Think

Or just sit.

And be renewed and refreshed, as you step away for a while from the busyness of your demanding stressful life, into this place of quiet and rest.

Photo: Lovely warming fire in the retreatants' sitting room! Come and enjoy this place of spiritual sanctuary - and warmth!

Lovely warming fire in the retreatants' sitting room - installed just today!

Imagine sitting here awhile to enjoy BEING

Come for a day.

Come for a weekend.

Come for as long as you need.

Come for refreshment, renewal.

Come for remaining in the Vine (John 15:4)

More details on the Retreats page – click here to reach it


The Vine at Mays Farm is officially launched and open. And it was a very special day, as friends old and new came to help the launch and have a look around. They came from London and Stamford and the New Forest; en route from Cornwall and Edinburgh and from just up the road in the village. My Pilates teacher; friends from university days; villagers we'd not met before; my psychotherapist and her husband; representatives from the Diocese of Derby; members of congregations from previous parishes. What an enormous privilege and joy to have so many come. A steady stream all day!  Gallons of tea were consumed, apples picked to take home, lots of conversations with lots of different people. What a blessing. But the highlight of the day was the fact that the chapel was used for the first time! It so nearly wasn't. An hour before the celebrations were due to begin, the chapel was still a store room, thick with dust and unusable. I was disappointed; there just had not been time to get that ready, with everything that needed to be done. And then one of our dear Trustees picked up a broom and my husband and her husband set to and moved things  - including the grand piano which was still in the middle of the chapel; and just in time, the little room began to come into life. It's not finished, and the money needs to be raised to complete it. But it's usable.

So we had the service of celebration and dedication, and some 35 - 40 of us squeezed in and Phil Lawson Johnston led the worship and I led the prayers. We sang "The Lord's my shepherd I'll not want .. and I will trust, I will trust in Him..." and we prayed for every single room in the house and for all who come to visit and to stay.

"Heavenly Father, make the roof of this house wide enough to shelter all who come; oil the door of this house so it opens easily to friend and stranger ... May all who enter encounter the Risen Lord, may all who visit grow in your love ... "

And the readings -

2 Samuel 7:28-29 -

the verses Kim & I read on one of our early dates and which have been so special to us for years:

And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue for ever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed for ever.’

And my ordination verses, embroidered on my preaching scarf, and now so wonderful for this place with the vine in the garden -

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine ..  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me ... Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."

Some stayed in the chapel to pray for a while afterwards. One guest said  she wanted the chapel service to go on and on, it was so meaningful and glorious. Many  commented on how special the house feels and that there is a real sense of the peace and grace of the Lord.

All day, people were arriving and walking around -  nearly a hundred came, but in a steady stream so that there was time to greet and chat and proffer tea!  They walked around and viewed the rooms - it's all so nearly finished! And the house responds to people; it seems to come alive with the Lord's Presence when there are guests and visitors in it.


The bedrooms are each named after a place where we have lived - and with furniture or pictures of the places too.




There's also Cambridge and South Carolina. Come and and enjoy a retreat and try them out!



And the final prayer that everyone prayed together: might you pray it too for all who will use this place for spiritual sanctuary and sustenance?

Visit O Lord this home with the gladness of your Presence. Bless all who live here and all who visit here with the gift of your love. May your fatherly care shield them, the love of your dear Son preserve them from all evil and the guidance of the Holy Spirit keep them walking in your ways. Grant that they may show your love to each other and to all whose lives they touch. May they grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you. Guide, comfort and strengthen them; and preserve them in peace, Lord Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Feeling at the end of your rope? Me too ......

I got it all wrong last week. Ever feel you've reached the end of your rope? That you've got it all wrong; you're barking up the wrong tree; hopelessly out of your depth; mis-hearing God's Voice; and any one of the many other clichés I could quote.

Yes, all of that. And more.

So I posted a sad little note on Facebook.

Said that I wanted to give it all up, as it all seemed like a big failure.

I  felt totally out of my depth. Totally out of perspective.

What had happened?

- we moved into the new house on July 18th; the first retreatant arrived that same afternoon of July 18th.

- the house was full of retreats and lovely retreatants for the next SIX WEEKS! Even at weekends. Oh, and did I mention that I was leading the retreats and doing all the cooking - oh, and still have no Aga and for most of the time had just a microwave and then a small electric oven.

- at the same time, we had all the unpacking to do. The work was still progressing. The builders are still here.

- then we madly had a large party to celebrate rather large birthdays this year and to have a house-warming. Lots of lovely family and friends came. It was a fabulously happy day. And took a lot of organising and preparation. But there was no time to clear up properly for we were off to Italy.

- 2 days of rest and we were straight into leading a Pilgrimage. 10 amazing people came with us as we led them 70 miles on the Via Francigena, leading physically and spiritually. At least no-one was lost or inadvertently left behind.

Photos from To print

Photos from To print

Returning home on Thursday, we walked into the lovely house we had left - and could not believe our eyes!

We'd left this:





and we walked into this:



you can't see the thick dust in the photos but it is everywhere, over everything, in every room



The decorator we had hired came in while we were away. And did a terrible job; and didn't do half of what was supposed to be done.

And it's truly colder inside the house than it is outside, even at midday and with windows open to let in the comparatively balmy air from outside. It was much warmer in Tuscany and the difference is stark.

Then there was the post - and the bills and more bills; and no money and no support (we so far have just one person supporting us monthly and are desperately in need of financial support.)

Living by faith is hard. Especially when you are totally exhausted.

Living into God's calling is not always the easiest path - but it's the only one worth walking.

*  *  *  *



Friends and acquaintances have given enormous support to me over the past few days, all via social media.

Lots of prayers, lots of verses from Scripture, lots of encouragement.

I am exceptionally grateful.

Of course, there's still dust everywhere and the house is upside down and there are about 100 people coming on Saturday for the Open Day and Launch. (will you come? please?) It's still cold and damp indoors.

There's still no money, and only a total of 4 nights of retreat booked in for the foreseeable future and lots of outstanding bills.

*  *  *  *  

But I need to be grateful for how far we have come in such a little time. Grateful for the extraordinary weeks of the Preview Retreats.

And to remember not to give in to despair and frustration.

Especially when so very tired.

And isn't that just when the enemy likes to get in and tell us we are no good and never will be any good and that it's all gone pear shaped?



But -



illustration from #smokymtnchristian on Facebook



seen on FaceBook, from the Psalm we learned on the Pilgrimage

So now I am tied to God.

Resting in the power of God.

Learning to be strong, take heart and wait for the Lord.

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And you?

What do you do when you are at the end of your rope? Where are you tied up?

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Wwould love you to come and enjoy The Vine @ Mays Farm

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

RSVP by email. Thank you!

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What retreatants are saying, after experiencing one of the Preview Retreats which were offered over the summer:

"L & I returned home from our Retreat at The Vine this weekend. The retreat center is going to be a wonderful place (it officially opens in Sept) and I highly recommend it to all  for visiting. It might be very special to go with a group of friends.  We enjoyed  meeting new friends, loved seeing the countryside and charming villages, and most especially experiencing afresh God's blessings upon us. The location is beautiful and peaceful, and the ministry very meaningful. The Swithinbanks are called to this place for ministry, and her Godly leadership skills for custom retreats are excellent! "  L&L from USA

"I had the most amazing time and am longing to be back at the best 'spiritual spa' that I have ever been to. I could not have asked to have been blessed with more beautiful and tranquil surroundings . I found utter peace at The Vine - I just loved it.  I came back and felt like I had found how I want to live -  I want to live with the supernatural peace that I experienced at The Vine." S.B. from London

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 for more information, Penelope's latest blog posts, and retreat details.

Your prayers and support are greatly valued and appreciated as we begin this new ministry. There are huge hurdles ahead of us (not least the money to complete the house and support the ministry) and we are learning afresh to look to the Lord and lean on Him:

Jesus said, "I am the Vine ... Remain in Me."

Curiouser and curiouser cried Alice


Early thoughts from a Pilgrimage ... 

Last week we (the other pilgrims and I)  walked in Tuscany -  from San Gimignano to Montalcino.  A mere 65 miles of the ancient Cammino, which goes from Canterbury to Rome, a total of 1300 miles. We called it a Pilgrimage for we wanted to make it a time when we intentionally spent time to draw closer to God.

And on the way we met Alice.

Rucksack on back, skin tanned, legs strong -  walking from Hertfordshire to Rome. Alice graduated earlier this summer from her studies of mediaeval history; left her home in Hertfordshire on June 23rd  and set out to walk to Rome. Take time to think. Cogitate on what may lie ahead for her. And meet her parents in Rome on September 23.

We were fascinated, astonished, curious. Why do it? Where did she stay at night? Would she be there in time? What did her parents think about it? And is it changing her, or her attitudes or beliefs?

Her tales were of sordid campsites in northern Europe, of a night finding nowhere to sleep and walking on in the dark - 30 miles without a stop, and then of warm Italians and welcoming Catholic churches and convents and parishes; and of how their faith was drawing her in, causing her to reconsider her agnosticism and making her wonder about becoming a Roman Catholic. And of calling her mother every other day to reassure her.

Later that night, when we had toiled up a hill to stay at the  Fattoria Pieve a Salti and were sitting by the pool under the setting sun, we prayed for her, for her safety and for her faith.  Thought of her sleeping in the parish church at Buonconvento, and of the 201 km she still has to walk to reach Rome.


Maybe some of us felt inadequate - our 65 miles felt very tiny in comparison. Most of us felt old - Alice is 22, our pilgrim party contained two who are 73, one who is 70 and one who is about to be; several in their 60's and 50's.

But comparisons are not always reality.

As we arrived in Montalcino after a long steep incline  at 20% there was a grand sense of achievement.

Physically -  many of the pilgrim party were not used to long walks each day, steep hills, strange beds, learning long sections of  Psalm 27: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple...

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock...

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”

Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

And spiritually  - thinking of how the deer desires, longs, pants  profoundly for water in the intense heat, especially the day we were unable to refill empty water bottles and the sun was hot and the path long and steep. How deep is our desire and longing for the Lord in our lives?

Or our ability to walk at all, being so wonderfully complex in our makeup, walking so slowly as we revelled in God's creation of us.

Remembering one morning of how He walks beside us. One pilgrim spoke of the intense sense of  the Lord's Presence beside her as we imagined His walking alongside us - and of how that Presence was accompanying her ever since.

One morning, married couples held hands and prayed together as they walked - one couple said they had not walked hand-in-hand for thirty years. Nor prayed together like that. You could almost see their marriage strengthen.

65 miles. 12 pilgrims (although only 10 made it the whole way). 6 days of walking. Too much pasta and plenty of water. No blisters, no falls, no casualties. God walked beside us, watched over us, drew us closer to Him. And each other.

And now it's over.

And already some are looking forward to next year and walking the next part - Montalcino to Vitterbo.

Come with us? Curious though it may be, walking in order to spend intentional time with God seems to work.











Searching for sanity again already?

You shake the last of the sand from your sandals recall the sun and the sea, the sunburn and the swimming pool,

remember the siestas and the sangria,

empty the last souvenir from the suitcase

and settle back into September sanity.

And the possibility of a clean slate.


"January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.  

Back-to-school is a time of self-evaluation and reflection."

So writes Gretchen Rubin.

Maybe it's the same for you.


A new start, a clean slate, time for something newer and stimulating? Searching for sanity again already?

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That need for self-evaluation, for reflection and renewal, can be something which drives us to what is sometimes called spiritual navel gazing.

Or it can be something which stirs us to greater things, to a desire to draw nearer to God and start afresh with renewed vigour in our relationship with him.

Get set for September - shake up your schedule and set a time for intentional seeking of God.

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Ps 27:8 ESV)

Set a new schedule - now , while you think about it and before everything else takes over! Set a time for those extra moments to seek his face.

And set a date to come on retreat.

Plan to spend a couple of nights away, time for renewal of the energy which has been sapped over the autumn, summer energy seeping away.

Spend a night or two at The Vine @ Mays Farm.

It's been transformed over the past few weeks! So even if you have already been, it's very different now.

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Walking in the autumn colours, it promises to be a very beautiful time to be away, to enjoy the countryside, to be intentional about searching for God. There's something special about walking, allowing the mind to clear of busy-ness and the beauty of creation to speak of the glories of God. And the peace and quiet as one walks is stunning for being able to concentrate on speaking to God and listening to and for him. Book now - limited places available!

Monday October 14  - Friday October 18 2013

Arrive Monday afternoon in time for a cream tea. A light supper followed by compline and an early night in a comfy bed in an ensuite twin bedded room.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we have breakfast followed by a morning devotion, and then leave to walk  for 7 - 8 miles,  pausing for a leisurely lunch break at a local hostelry about half way round. During the walks we may chat or be in silence, take part in a spiritual reflection/exercise or pray. Each day's walk is different:  hilly or wooded, through the prettiest village in England or past a Georgian building used in filming a Jane Austin novel.  We walk approximately from 10.30 -  1.00, stop for lunch and walk again until reaching home about 4.00. Free time until supper, which is followed by compline.

Friday: morning devotion after breakfast, followed by a 3-4 mile circular walk. Departure by noon.

Facilities for guests include: fridge,  washer/dryer,  wi-fi in the house (but you are encouraged not to use it too much and we do not use technology on the walks!) sitting room  and a well-stocked library  (both have wood burner stoves and underfloor heating!)  lovely grounds including a walled garden and a chapel.

The small print:  this fully guided retreat is for 4 nights half board. You will need to buy your own lunch each day at the pub on the way. Dinner, bed & breakfast are provided. Each room is fully ensuite, equipped with a tea/coffee tray and freshly made up beds. (bring your own towels) Accommodation is in twin rooms (bring a friend and share a room, or we can allocate room mates!) COST for the fully guided 4 night retreat half board is just £200 to cover costs; with a suggested donation to MbD of £20 a night which can be gift aided.

There are just 10 places available  - so make sure you book now to be able to come!

Email to ask for a booking form.

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For those who love photos - latest updates!