Raised in Edmonds, Rick Reynolds wound up in seminary following an ill-fated experiment with elementary school teaching. As a volunteer for Operation Nightwatch in the 1980s, he took his ministry to the streets, handing out supplies and comfort to the city’s most vulnerable. Now executive director, Reynolds, along with his team, oversees volunteer dinners at the organization’s International District HQ and coordinates housing and necessities for thousands of homeless Seattleites. At 65, the reverend still hits the streets regularly and is well-loved in local tent cities, where he’s known to show up with pizza. —Jessica Voelker
I was in college and I thought I’d be a teacher. After one quarter student-teaching sixth graders, I said, “Let me out of here.”
My first quarter of seminary, I bought a clerical collar and started going out on the street at night for Nightwatch as a volunteer.
I thought, The challenge to myself for the rest of my life is to get over whatever prejudice and biases I have and learn how to, if not physically hug people, at least embrace them as human.
That was the early ’80s, right? There were 125 little drinking establishments in downtown Seattle where poor neighborhood people living in single-room occupancy units would congregate.
Well, that’s all gone. So now I go out one night a week to a homeless camp, bring pizza from Little Caesars, and hang out there. We bring them socks and just basically look for good that we can do.
A lot happens when you make friends.
People have been attracted by the $15-an-hour wage. That’s the story I get: “My brother-in-law is making $17 an hour in Seattle as a janitor, and I was working for $9 in Missoula.” Guys come and say, “I came with $400 but couldn’t find a place to rent.” They thought that would be enough.
Certain neighborhoods are just beset by homeless people and I am sympathetic to that. But the vulnerability is interesting if you take a step back. Here is a person making good money, living in a house that they are trying to get paid off, and they’re feeling at risk. Whereas here is this person who has nothing.
I hope that we learn how to be neighborly even to people we don’t like. It’s hard when they’re yelling at you or leaving a turd on your front porch.
The homeless camps have become allies with the city in many ways, because they provide 24-hour care, most of them have enforcement of drug and alcohol issues, they do warrant checks for sex offenders.
I think about the retirees that are getting run out of Seattle. We’ll serve, like, 1,800 different individuals over the course of a year, averaging about 125 to 130 a night. But when we look at how many of those people were over 55, it’s nearly doubled in four years.
I get someone into housing and get the call. “Hey, I just moved into my first apartment, but I don’t have a microwave.” So we’ll put it up on social media and get microwaves donated. We’ve gotten beds and other furniture, television sets, and bicycles for people who needed a way to get to work.
Once you get somebody inside, and feeling safe and stable, they start to give up their drug and alcohol abuse. Not everybody, but a lot of people. You don’t need to numb the pain if the pain goes away.
If you only love the people who are like you, who have the same values, the same economic and educational background, you’re not really doing much except loving yourself.
Is there anybody who doesn’t suffer? Suffering seems to be very much a part of the way the world works.
In the scope of eternity, my hope is that all suffering will be meaningful and will somehow be redeemed. I don’t know how, but I do believe in a benevolent, loving God.