Church to offer NATO protesters shelter

May 3, 2012 (CHICAGO)

For 23 years, Rev. Errol Narain has been the rector at Trinity Episcopal, a church with a deep history and community mission dating back to the late 1870s.

"People do matter, and I think those marching want to turn tanks into flowers and seeds of hope," said Narain.

The church stands is next door to Mercy hospital, which is right across the expressway from McCormick Place where the NATO gathering will be held May 20-21.

Rev. Narain has invited protesters bound for the summit to pitch their tents on church grounds and stay so long as they maintain decorum -- no drinking, no loud noise that might offend the neighbors.

At present, the plan is to accommodate 40 bicyclists who are riding their bikes from Madison, Wisc., to Chicago for the NATO summit.

"I don't mind turning this sanctuary into a dorm," Narain told ABC7. "We have to take the altar to the streets."

There is concern among church neighbors who are not fond of the idea of a makeshift campground next door. The church invited neighbors to a meeting Thursday night to explain that its visitors will be credentialed and disinvited if they misbehave.

"They're sending a message, and that's courageous of them," said Andy Thayer, protest organizer.

Rev. Narain came to Chicago to escape the apartheid of South Africa. He is a believer in the power of grassroots activism.

"In every situation of change, it is the grassroots that matter," he said.

Military spending will be a key focus of NATO protesters. Narain will be among them along with his guests.

"We are merely extending hospitality here and hope the city has a heart as well," he said.

The city has made clear that camping in public parks is a prohibited. Tents on private property represent a bit of a different picture.

A few blocks away Thursday evening, NATO organizing committee members and others working on the summit alerted residents about what to expect when the area is filled with visiting heads of state and dignitaries later this month. Much of their efforts are aimed at separating truth from what they say are unfounded fears.

Many residents say they are concerned about getting around with street closures and various motorcades, not to mention the protests, which in other cities have become violent and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

"I think we still need answers," said June Sargent, neighbor.

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