UFM European Conference

Every two years, where possible, UFM aims to gather as many as possible of its European workers together for a brief conference somewhere in Europe. This happened in 2019, when we were able to go, in 2022 when some illness or other prevented us from going, and this year. The conference is held in a centre called Poggio Ubertini, in the Tuscan hills outside Florence.

The centre was bequeathed to the elders of the local brethren assembly in the early part of the 20th century by a rich Christian woman of Scottish descent. The bequest included agricultural land as well as her hilltop home, and during times of persecution the centre was a lifeline for believers. Over the years generations of young people have come to faith there, and/or have found their life partners. One friend in Bordeaux went to camps there as a girl and sent her daughters there in their turn.

The centre is breathtakingly beautiful, set amongst rolling vineyards and olive groves. The birds there sing long and loud. Some of the brethren folk organise the catering for visiting groups, using local seasonal produce, and they work out what to cook from what their supplier brings them. One meal we had frittered courgette flowers, because the courgettes were delivered with the flowers attached.

Michael Prest, the mission director, spoke in the mornings from the Beatitudes. Other people ran small group workshops on knowing your limits, dealing with regret, and so on. There were afternoon gelato runs to stunning neighbouring towns. We saw old friends, who noticed how old we have got, too. I met one old friend for the first time - I mean, I've known his father, his brother, his in-laws for about forty years, but I'd never met him. It was a good time.

Last time we went we flew Swissair, from Bordeaux to Florence via Zurich. Both flights were difficult. Instead of landing in Florence we landed in Pisa and then I had to run around like a madman looking for the Swissair bus to Florence with NO ITALIAN WHATSOEVER (except mamma mia) Flying back one of our flights was cancelled, Zurich airport was in chaos, we were put in an emergency hotel and told to catch the 6am flight the next day. It was not a happy experience...

This time we flew Ryanair direct from Bordeaux to Pisa. All was smooth and trouble-free. The only drawback was that the flight only happens weekly on Tuesdays. This was perfect for going to the conference, but imposed a long weekend in Florence before coming back. Life is hard, sometimes.

Florence was full of French people, probably because of the Pont de l'Ascension. I had prepared this time with duo lingo so I was able to tell people to take the suitcases while I took the backpack, and had finally understood the principles of the definite article. Perhaps more importantly, I was able to begin every conversation with "Mi dispiace, non parole italiano. Parlate francese o inglese?" Most people spoke one or the other, and one guy said, "that sounds like Italian to me". 

We paid through the nose for an AirBnB, which gave us some respite from the crowds. We met one lady from Milan, who spoke little English, but we put it together with our little Italian and managed pretty well. "Is Milan crowded like this?" "It's worse", she said, "come in early spring or late autumn."

On Sunday we visited the international church in the morning and were warmly welcomed. Seeing how busy the usual sightseeing spots were, we looked for alternatives - San Miniato al Monte, the Giardino Delle Rose, a trek round the innumerable beautiful churches, including Savonarola's church. All was wonderful. We're glad to be home.


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