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Minister Guides Bikers on Road to Redemption

Religion: Richard Fish welcomes leather, tattoos and Harleys at his Simi Valley church, which he founded after a serious motorcycle accident five years ago.


After a 1997 motorcycle accident left him with a broken back and a crushed leg, Richard Fish embarked on a new journey.

"I was a mess," said Fish, 38. "I heard the Lord speak to me that night. He said, 'You're going to be a minister,' and [told me that] the name of my church would be Live Ride."

Five years later, Fish is an ordained minister with his own church, located in a Simi Valley strip mall, where leather, tattoos and Harleys are welcomed.

This is a church where Christian services are held on Saturday, so they don't conflict with popular Sunday morning ride times.

The atmosphere is come-as-you-are casual--no such thing as "Sunday best" here. The parking lot is so crowded with black metal and chrome that passersby often mistake it for some kind of outlaw hangout.

"Some people see all the bikes in the parking lot and think it's a place where they can score some drugs," said Fish, who has overcome his own battles with alcohol and drug abuse. "We had one guy come in with $1,000 in his wallet, ready to buy some [cocaine]. But they come here and get saved."

The 150-member congregation--mostly bikers--has found a spiritual home at the church, a close-knit community where people are not judged and pasts are left behind.

"This church is for square pegs," said parishioner Jim Barros, who wore a black leather vest, black T-shirt and dark jeans to a recent service. "It's a hospital for sinners as opposed to a sanctuary for saints."

The mission of the church is praised by other religious leaders in Simi Valley.

"Rick [Fish] deals with a type of person all churches want to reach out to but really don't know how to," said Kevin Dieckilman, pastor at Simi Hills Christian Church.

"Live Ride crosses both gender and cultural boundaries. There are people there in suits and ties, as well as bikers. It's one of the truest examples of what Christ had in mind in building a church and reaching out to all types of people."

Fish runs the Live Ride Christian Church with his wife, Joye. Their four children are often in the sanctuary when Fish conducts Saturday night services in front of a mural depicting two leather-clad bikers riding into the sunset past a skull-shaped hill topped with three crosses.

People sway and raise their arms to the music played by the Live Ride Band, whose bluesy, Christian rock often brings the congregation to its feet. Some worshipers, including Fish, close their eyes as the music washes over them.

As the service begins, Fish, wearing a black shirt with red flames across the bottom, slowly makes his way to the front. During his sermon, he refers to his life-changing motorcycle accident, using it as a lesson in how one can be redeemed.

"God grabbed me in the midst of destruction and said, 'I'm going to save you, and you're going to make an impact on people's lives,' " Fish said during a service last month. "I was saved from the depths of fire and you can be, too.

"Some of you backslide," he said. "You let life beat you up and let the enemy slip under your skin. But it doesn't have to be that way."

Aside from services, church activities are a mix of the usual and the slightly offbeat. Live Ride offers Bible study, a youth ministry and "fellowship rides"--Fish rides with a group of local pastors who call themselves Bikers of the Cloth.

"We deal with a lot of intimate, personal problems that people bring to us," Fish said. "Sometimes you need to get away from it all, and riding is a good release."

Church members said they appreciate the all-accepting atmosphere.

"There's no egos," said Amy Krowpomar, a Newbury Park chef who regularly attends services with her husband and their two young children.

Although not a biker herself, Krowpomar said she's always been attracted to the lifestyle and once worked for Easyriders magazine. For that reason, she's chosen to worship at Live Ride instead of a more traditional church.

"It's just one big family," said Krowpomar, who kicked off her sandals during a recent service and swayed to the music.

Santa Clarita resident Helen Duncan said she attends services whenever she visits friends in Simi Valley.

"I can lift my hands, do whatever I want. No one cares," Duncan said. "People who are broken, people with tattoos, or whatever, they need to feel like they have a place to go."

Fish received his degree in church ministry in 1994 at Pacific Christian College in Fullerton, now Hope International University.

After earning his ministry credential, he became a deacon at the Christian Church of Thousand Oaks and told elders about his hope of becoming an ordained minister. The elders agreed to sponsor his ordination in 1996.

Soon after, he became youth minister at Simi Hills Christian Church and co-pastor of the fledgling Life Christian Church. His motorcycle, street smarts and vaguely bad-boy image appealed to young people.

"I was the coolest youth minister in town," he said.

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