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Ferguson Clergy Appeal For Calm Ahead Of Grand Jury's Decision

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A grand jury outside St. Louis is expected to reconvene today. The jurors are deciding whether to indict a police officer for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown in the community of Ferguson. Since the confrontation between Officer Darren Wilson and Brown last August, there've been numerous protests. Many in the region were braced for an announcement from the grand jury yesterday. Instead, Sunday was a day when church leaders and others called for calm. Here's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The impending grand jury decision was a topic of sermons in many churches across St. Louis on Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

REVEREND TOMMY PIERSON: (Singing) As we sing our invitation song, we invite you to come.

CORLEY: At Greater St. Mark Family Church, just outside of Ferguson, the Reverend Tommy Pierson said, he wanted try to make sense of what is going on in the city, while offering some hope to his predominately Africa-American congregation. Shortly after Michael Brown was shot to death, his parents reached out to the minister, asking him to hold a rally in the church. Pierson says, he will do the same when the decision comes.

PIERSON: And we're going to walk by faith. And I've got to lay one thing on you because we are not going to loot. We are not going to break windows. We are not going to do any of that stuff, but we're going to walk by faith.

(APPLAUSE)

PIERSON: I don't know about you, but there is change in the air.

CORLEY: After the service, 22-year-old DeVaugh Lockett said, he's been alarmed by a lot of what he's been reading on social media. He says, people are scared, buying guns, and the buildup of anticipation has put people on edge.

DEVAUGH LOCKETT: And the more you put people on edge, the worse the outcome is going to be.

CORLEY: The church's music director, Beverly Smith, says, she's been doing a lot of praying.

BEVERLY SMITH: I believe that whatever God's will is is what's going to happen. And then there are - if people feel that's not, then there are different channels that they can take to, you know, get justice.

PIERSON: We'll be going down into the Fellowship Hall.

CORLEY: Greater St. Mark will be used as a sanctuary after the grand jury decision. The Fellowship Hall, a cavernous space, will be converted into a safe haven for about 200 demonstrators.

PIERSON: And we have outlets around for them to charge their phones, and we'll have water and some food here - medical supplies, as well.

CORLEY: Pierson says that the church will be off-limits to police and won't be a sanctuary for criminals.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Faraci Pizza...

CORLEY: At Faraci's Pizza, not far from the Ferguson Police Department, a steady stream of customers are coming in, but the windows are still boarded up. The owners got into a confrontation with protesters more than a month ago. Dawne Marshall says, things have calmed down, but there's still a lot of anxiety in the neighborhood.

DAWNE MARSHALL: Just waiting itself is enough to kind of drive you a little crazy, you know, whichever way it goes.

CORLEY: Twenty-six-year-old Jarvis Wilkins, trying out Faraci's for the first time, has his own theory about why there hasn't been any word from the grand jury.

JARVIS WILKINS: To be honest, I feel like they're waiting for it to get cold before they make the announcement. So they think people will stay home.

CORLEY: Temperatures here have been in the '50s and '60s the last few days. Steve Sommers, another customer, says, he believes the grand jury is just grappling with a tough decision.

STEVE SOMMERS: The idea that a grand jury might have all the evidence in front of you, and you may want to lean one way, but realize that result may cause all sorts of problems in the community.

CORLEY: Sommers says, if there is an indictment of Officer Darren Wilson and all the evidence is aired, that could possibly avert any violence. For now, the community of Ferguson just waits. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.