It wasn’t as cold as it had been the preceding nights, but it was still wet and dreary and I was fighting a cold, so I took a long hot shower before I left to spend my evening with the guests of Room in the Inn.
It’s one of life great pleasures, isn’t it – a long hot shower when you’re cold and wet and tired? When you’re sore down to your bones and you just want to feel warm and clean and climb into bed?
That’s what they provide at Room in the Inn. A meal, a shower, a bed, one night a week, to those who don’t have it.
In 2010, Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church began their homeless outreach ministry based on the successful Room in the Inn model used in Nashville. During the cold winter months, from November to March, a time when thousands of homeless people die each year, the congregation would offer a safe place to stay once a week. Since that time, many churches have joined together to offer shelter to the city’s homeless population on a weekly basis. It’s possible you’ve read in the newspaper or seen on social media that one church has been issued a citation for hosting an evening, and several more have received complaints from neighbors.
I think if those neighbors were to spend the evening at an Inn, they’d feel differently. I arrived at Peace Lutheran to the raspy laugh of Ms. Tonie, the coordinator for the evening. Her big personality seems to be both world-weary and optimistic at once, and she made all of the volunteers feel right at home. We set up plates and warmed rolls, putting the finishing touches on dinner while waiting for the guests to arrive.
We served dinner, handing out seconds on chicken and the delicious greens brought by Ms. Tonie’s mother. Guests and volunteers chatted and ate, and joked about the food and the weather. Marcus introduces himself with the beaded wares he sells, and explains to the unfamiliar about the work of other groups that support the homeless in Memphis, like Manna House and H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality). Octavius reminds me of my brother, long and lanky and mischievous. He and his buddy Antonio are quite the pair, and have me laughing at stories of their escapades and hijinks all night. Keith is a flower seller, and he gives me his last rose, since I’m the youngest volunteer. We might need to look into whether Keith needs glasses.
Guests excuse themselves upstairs to shower, where Ms. Tonie has laid out fresh towels, underwear, and socks next to little bags of soaps and shampoos, and come back to the tables, eager to rejoin the lively conversation for a little while before they give into the siren song of clean sheets and warm blankets upstairs.
It is communion, in the truest sense of the word.
Who could have a problem with that?
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