Of Protestants, Protesters, and PB&J -Rene Paquin
Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. ~Edwin Arlington Robinson
When I came to this neighborhood, Bridgeport welcomed me. Over the last year, members of First Trinity have treated me like I was family, though I am not a member and had never been to worship. So when I had the opportunity to join Pastor Tom in welcoming the NATO protesters, I had to be there. Officially I welcomed them as a representative of Bridgeport Alliance, but in reality, I was there because it felt right.
"With Christ, we testify that violence is not the way to peace."
Then they arrived. Tired, hungry and a little smelly. They were exhausted from a day of travel, protesting and walking the 4 miles from Grant Park. They were happy to sign the peace agreement that Tom had written. They piled wearily into the chapel where we had introductions, learned the rules and welcomed our guests. More than a few of the travelers asked me if there was any food, so we feasted on a dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato chips. They were so grateful, one might have thought that I had presented them with a thanksgiving dinner.
The thing is, for me, it was a time of thanksgiving. After the FTP march that had taken place on the previous Tuesday, I was scared. As a person who dedicates a great deal of my time to enacting positive change, I was scared that a small group of anarchists had reversed all of the good work that Bridgeport Alliance had done. I wanted these protesters to come to our neighborhood, and I wanted to be able to hold them up as an example of the fact that most of the protesters want peace. They want to have their voices heard and improve the world.
When the travelers arrived on Friday night there was a concert going on upstairs. There would be another concert on Saturday, a quinceañera, and an art show. Sunday there would be three worship services, and the church's voters meeting. In other words, it was a busy weekend! The people hosting the concert allowed all of the occupiers to attend for no charge. We gave them access to God's Closet where many of them found a clean t-shirt, something warm to sleep in and maybe even a book or two. They thanked us at every turn.
"...welcome organizers, protesters, and activists as a part of Christ's ministry at First Trinity in Chicago. "
Many of these people came with no money, no change of clothes, no bedroll. It seemed that they had been given the impression that once they arrived in Chicago everything that they needed would be provided for them. They were given sanctuary at First Trinity only to have some of their sense of safety taken on when they woke up with cameras pointed at them on Saturday morning. The media came, and one channel decided that entering the church and filming sleeping protesters would make good B-roll. I spoke with the camera crews and reporters who were there and explained that I did not want them to cause our neighbors any distress and that I would appreciate it if they left. One of the reporters told me, "You're hosting protesters. You have to expect this."
That's fair. I did expect some of it. But what I did not expect was the amount of respect that the protesters showed the church and the neighborhood. When they walked to the church they broke up into small groups to avoid causing alarm to anyone who may have seen them. They cleaned up after themselves and the concert goers who left beer bottles around the parking lot. One young man, eating a banana that we had provided, tried to hand me $5. I told him that their gratitude and respect for our neighbors was enough, and I meant it.
I enjoyed their stories, I relished their enthusiasm and even though I did not agree with all of the things that they are protesting, I appreciate that they are fighting for all of us.
It's no coincidence that I attended worship services at Trinity for the first time on NATO weekend. I spend time at the church, but I am not a christian. Pastor Tom told the guests, "You don't have to be christian to stay here, you just have to be peaceful." I was inspired by Pastor Tom's openness to attend church services this weekend, for the first time in many years. I wanted to see what it was all about. I am glad that I did.
One of the guests who had come from Oregon told Pastor Tom and I that, "I gotta tell the churches back home, they're not doing it right." I can't speak for other churches, but I do know that Trinity is doing it right. You have created a church that acts as a center for the community, and offers sanctuary to lowly, the poor, the peacemakers, and the persecuted ... and even a cynic like me.