Room in the Inn Memphis (RITI) is an ecumenical ministry that serves people experiencing homelessness. Modeled after the hugely successful Room in the Inn program that started in Nashville more than 30 years ago and now has over 200 participating congregations, RITI is beginning its 8th year of providing emergency shelter, meals, dignity, and love nightly from November 1st through March 31st. Thirty-four congregations representing more than a dozen different denominations are participating as hosts in our city this year.
The goal of RITI is to show the love of God through hospitality. Volunteers from hosting congregations pick up 10-15 guests at the RITI downtown center and transport them to their places of worship (or to the site of another congregation which has allowed them to use that facility for RITI). After serving an evening meal to their guests, volunteer hosts join them at the table. After dinner, some play games, watch TV, or read together before the guests retire for the night to warm, clean beds furnished by the host site and prepared by the hosting congregation. At least two volunteers stay the night. All rise early for breakfast before being transported back to the RITI center often with gifts of essentials and snack bags to help them make it through the next day on the street.
We visit with Rev. Lisa Anderson, director of RITI, who explains how the program works by using spaces faith communities already have that are often unused at night to provide shelter to people who otherwise would be sleeping on the street. She shares her beliefs that we all are called to reach out to those who are in less fortunate circumstances than we, since they are most often living on the margins because of the choices we each make as members of a society with many systemic obstacles. She talks about how the use of the word “guest” helps confirm the dignity of those the program serves. Lisa ends with describing the life-changing process of sharing a meal together, a time when the line between giver and receiver is blurred.
We also visit one of the congregational sites during their communal dinner. Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church was the first African American church to participate in RITI six years ago. Their pastor, Rosalyn Nichols, tells us how her congregation has been changed by participating in RITI. She believes they were blessed with a bigger facility because they used their prior much-smaller space for RITI. Roz says that many of their families volunteer together and that children who participate are less self-absorbed and begin to encourage their parents to engage in additional ways in the community.
We thank the host congregations of RITI for giving shelter and love to some of the most vulnerable in our community and for empowering them, together with us all, to do what we can only do together, create beloved community where all are safe and loved.