Text by: Ruthie Hall
The homeless situation in Memphis is not a new one. While the local community provides several shelters that help homeless people, often the need is too great. That’s the need Room in the Inn seeks to fill. For the past six years the network of local religious congregations has provided sufficient, free shelter in small, safe environments from November through March. This project provides an opportunity for congregations to engage in radical hospitality. Room In the Inn – Memphis began at Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church and has since grown into a network of 25 congregations from eight denominations.
The members of Emmanuel United Methodist Church felt compelled to join this network and are entering their third year of service. Jackie Spear, who coordinates the effort at Emmanuel, explains, “Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect no matter their current circumstances.” Inspiration for the program comes from Hebrews 13:2, which states: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Emmanuel’s volunteers believe they are entertaining angels at Room in the Inn, “or at the very least, children of God who should not be forgotten or ignored,” Spear says.
“Volunteering for Room in the Inn is a life-changing experience,” she continues. “For a few hours on a Saturday night our focus is on welcoming the homeless in as our honored guests. They are our sole priority for a brief moment in time.” Spear says that as church members share a meal with them and exchange stories, a strong bond begins to form and continues to grow week after week.
“Our goals each week are to shower them with hospitality and lots of love, while hopefully making their lives a little more comfortable and a little less stressful. We want our guests to leave Emmanuel each week wrapped in the knowledge that they are cared for and loved,” she says.
Volunteers are always welcome, and workers range from individuals and families to Sunday School classes, youth groups and high school service organizations. Rev. Lisa Anderson, Executive Director of Room in the Inn – Memphis, says the heart of the ecumenical ministry is the local volunteers who open their doors and welcome in strangers week after week. “The volunteers give Room in the Inn its power and meaning,” Anderson says. “No matter how many congregations participate and how large the program grows, the intimate experience of eating together and sharing stories is the critical element. Each volunteer has a unique opportunity to offer the gift of hospitality.”
She goes on to describe Room in the Inn – Memphis as a simple concept addressing a complex problem. “It starts with building relationships of trust and respect in an atmosphere of non-violence. It believes in the power of love offered in one-to-one encounters with one another.” Room in the Inn is constantly striving to bring more congregations into the network in order to help more homeless people.
To volunteer for Room in the Inn at Emmanuel, go to www.emmanuelmemphis.org. Select Outreach and click on Room in the Inn for access to the sign-up links for each Saturday night.
Questions may be directed to Jackie Spear, Room in the Inn Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 901.754.6548. Room in the Inn at Emmanuel has a new Amazon.com wish list that can be accessed by going to Amazon.com, selecting Wish List, and searching: EUMC Room in the Inn.
The website for Room In the Inn – Memphis is www.roomintheinn-memphis.org.
Rev. Lisa Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.