It was more than just another Sunday for the members of First and Summerfield United Methodist Church who gathered last week at the corner of College and Elm streets. This Sunday brought a new addition to the church — a small lectern in front of the altar with a thin cross adorning the front.
Marco Antonio Reyes, an undocumented construction worker from Meriden currently taking refuge inside the church, built the lectern for the parish after learning from Rev. Juhye Hahn that the church needed a new one. Reyes has resided in the church since Aug. 8, when he defied a deportation order from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return to Ecuador after 20 years on American soil. The First and Summerfield community voted in July to serve as a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Reyes is the first undocumented immigrant the church has hosted.
“On the same morning when we welcomed Marco, a short message was also posted in our Connecticut district Facebook,” Hahn said during her sermon on Sunday. “It said, “Friends, First & Summerfield United Methodist Church is in search of a baptismal font and a portable and adjustable lectern.’”
Hahn’s aim to install an adjustable lectern in the church was fulfilled soon after Reyes arrived at the church. His construction background enabled him to lend his skills to the church and build the new lectern. On Sunday, Reyes, accompanied by his wife and children, attended the service to formally dedicate the new lectern with the parish.
In an interview with the News after the service, Reyes said he is committed to remaining in the country and that he is thankful for the support that he has received so far.
“Pastor Hahn said that they needed a lectern for this church, and so I said, ‘Yes, why not?’ because I work in construction and know about carpentry,” he said. “And this is a beautiful experience for me because the people here are amazing. All the people in this church love me, and this is my gift for them.”
It was an easy decision to accept Reyes and his wife into the church community, Hahn said.
“Our mission is very clear. We emphasize social justice issues,” Hahn said. “That’s how we kind of share the love of God, are disciples of Jesus Christ, to our neighbors who are in need.”
First and Summerfield has a long record of civil rights activism, and Hahn said many members of the church are elderly people who grew up during the civil rights movement. A committee within the church, which includes members of the local activist group Unidad Latina en Acción and volunteers from Yale Law School, meets weekly to discuss developments in Reyes’ case.
Hahn said she sees Reyes’ arrival as a blessing for the parish, and other church members said the the church’s sanctuary status has brought renewed excitement to the community.
“We don’t have a way of expressing our feelings about some of the things that have been going on, and we don’t have access to [speaking out on] television and radio, but we could do something here,” said Bob Hancock, a senior member of the church. “It may be kind of small, but something.”
Hancock also noted that the size of the parish has tripled since August, an increase he attributed to the attention the church has received from the case.
Hahn said she hopes more young people, including Yale students, join the church, and that the community can raise money in the coming months so that the church can pursue more projects.
Despite the church’s embrace of Reyes, little progress has been made in his case.
Unless exceptions are made for low-priority deportation cases, Marco Reyes could be deported if he steps outside the church. The News reported last month that Reyes may qualify for asylum status because his family has received death threats in Ecuador, but that would require the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his stay of removal.
At the dedication ceremony, parish leaders also announced several upcoming service projects, including a downtown soup kitchen and an effort to collect supplies to send to homes affected by hurricane flooding in the South.
Carolyn Sacco | firstname.lastname@example.org