Written by Emily Mullins
To more effectively address the needs of refugee women and children fleeing their homelands in Mexico and Central America for the safety of the United States, United Church of Christ congregations along the southern border realized they needed an extra set of hands. The Southwest Conference of the UCC has hired the Rev. Tyler Connoley, pastor of Silver City UCC in Silver City, N.M., as the new immigrant care coordinator to stay up to date on this ever-changing situation and to be a go-to person for UCC churches and members seeking ways to help.
"Initially, I'll be working with our local churches in the Southwest Conference so they can better coordinate their ministries, however, I see myself as a resource for the entire United Church of Christ and, really, for anyone caring for immigrants," said Connoley, who begins his position this week. "The idea is that when a church in Maine, or Ohio, or wherever, wants to help immigrants or advocate for fair and comprehensive immigration legislation, they'll have someone in the Southwest who already knows where the needs are and what the issues are, so I can answer their questions and direct them to the right resources."
Connoley will work to manage requests from churches looking to offer resources or assistance, coordinate trips for groups coming to the border to learn and advocate, remain knowledgeable about legislative matters that need immediate attention, and establish a network of churches across the southern border and throughout the country to encourage support and mobilization. The one-year position is being funded with assistance from the UCC national offices. At the end of that year, the position will be reevaluated to determine if the intended goals have been met and if funding is available to extend it.
"We've been overwhelmed by the numbers of people contacting us to ask what they can do – we are the church on the border and, as such, people look to us as a resource on these issues," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, conference minister of the Southwest Conference. "Tyler has an impeccable reputation amongst his peers as a person of integrity, compassion, and action, and he has strong ties to leaders throughout the Southwest, both within the household of the UCC and outside of it."
Connoley and his congregation have already been actively addressing the needs of the women and children who have arrived in their state, spearheading the community's effort to collect supplies and seek volunteers to support the work of N.M. Communities in Action and Faith (CAFe). Silver City UCC is one of countless UCC churches and individuals who have donated their time, money, and resources to what is being considered a humanitarian crisis. The UCC's emergency appeal for unaccompanied child refugees has collected nearly $40,000, which has been allocated to help the women and children who hope their dangerous journey across the border will result in a better life for themselves and their families.
"I'm so grateful to be a minister in a denomination where the first response of our members is always, 'How can I help?'" Connoley said. "This feels like a great opportunity to be a part of the UCC's historic work in the world."