26 October 2022

YMCA European Unify is an opportunity to bring people together with different cultural and spiritual backgrounds. The theme of this year’s conference was “Refreshed. Renewed. Moved” and was held in Vienna, Austria. Several representatives from YMCA Black Country Group attended this year and have shared their reflections of their experience.

Shirley Spicer, Housing Services Manager

I had deliberately not researched Unify as I had wanted to experience everything first hand, to see what, if anything, it had to offer – like starting a new book without the prologue.

To summarise what happened over the next three days I find hard to put into words and I cannot promise that all of it will make sense but here goes.

It began after Günter, an elderly German gentleman came to the stage to speak on Friday morning. Often words cannot convey the right emotion when done so through an interpreter, yet I felt Günter was speaking directly to me and that we were the only two in the room. That was the start of a weekend of ineffable emotions. I will not go through the step by step thought processes and feelings that were going through my head, but what I will share with you is that something happened during that evening that not only emotionally exhausted me, but released me from an invisible burden that I had been carrying, possibly for years. In Mathew 11: 28-30 “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and this I can relate to, though there could also be an additional line that says something like “bring tissues for the handover”.

Unify is very much needed and I encourage anyone to put their name forward for a chance to go. Language, culture, tradition and all that separates us keeps us apart but we all have the same fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams and the focus needs to be about bringing us together. Unify does that.

In closing, I must also say that we in YMCA Black Country are so fortunate to have Phil Gray. He has a voice that is powerful, moving and wonderful; a voice that lifts the room and takes you with it. More than that, he has a humbleness and a kindness that is even more evident when you see him at work in a crowd of people from around Europe – he is known and respected by them all.