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Ferguson Churches Prepare For Thanksgiving After Grand Jury Fallout

Ferguson church leaders say they're hoping to heal the community this Thanksgiving after a grand jury decision has left the town fractured.

Churches in Ferguson, Missouri, are hopeful that the turmoil of this week will recede on Thanksgiving Day, when they open their doors in the spirit of community. Houses of worship in the protest-wracked town will hold prayer services and provide lunch — to residents, to business owners and to demonstrators outraged over a grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Michael Brown.

"We’ve been a disjointed or disconnected people," Pastor Willis Johnson, of Wellspring Church, said Wednesday. "Here’s an opportunity to show what we can and ought to be."

Churches surveyed by NBC News said they’re expecting two to three times more people than normal. Wellspring typically has about 150 to 200 people each holiday. Another church, Zion Lutheran, had about 75 people last year, during their first Thanksgiving meal, but is also expecting more.

After a grand jury chose Monday not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of teenager Brown, the St. Louis suburb has seen daily unrest, with a dozen buildings burned Monday and a police car set ablaze on Tuesday.

Churches have not been immune to the destruction. The church where Michael Brown's father was recently baptized, and whose pastor has been very vocal in the aftermath of the shooting, was torched Monday after the grand jury decision was announced. Federal officials are investigating the fire.

Police and community relations, meanwhile, have been strained since the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown — but the churches see this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to break bread.

"Once you sit down to dinner with people, you’re no longer enemies," said Zion Lutheran Pastor Rick Brenton. "It makes a big difference when you sit down and share a meal and talk to people face-to-face."

"We have to remember that Michael Brown was one of Ferguson’s children. It’s hurt all of us," he added. "The family of Darren Wilson was hurt, too. We need to change, and it won’t happen until we sit down and get together."