Pastor Keith Page finds rebirth at The Loft

Church opened on a Sunday morning in October with a Buffalo Springfield song.

Glenn Parrish stood up and strummed a guitar; its finish was worn where he rests his elbow when he talks between songs.

He danced, bending his lanky legs as he launched into the first lines.

"There's something happening here.

What it is ain't exactly clear."

About 15 people sat around him in a circle of slouchy chairs and wide couches.

Some clapped and sang. Others sat and listened. A large white dog slept on the concrete floor.

The man in charge of the service was inconspicuous in a pair of shorts and laceless Converse sneakers.

He leaned back and wore a broad smile and graying beard as he tapped along to the beat.

Keith Page doesn't often call himself a pastor anymore, but he's quick to call forth the name of Jesus and frequently talks about his "ministry."

His Sunday morning gatherings, called Reclaimed Church, are the epicenter of his operation, but as Page told his parishioners, "The things that we do beyond Sunday morning are the ripples."

Those ripples are The Loft, a repurposed suite in an office park in Costa Mesa's Westside where the church meets.

Even Page, who runs The Loft through his nonprofit, struggles to succinctly describe it.

Depending on the time of day, The Loft could become a fitness boot camp, concert venue, yoga studio, forum on human sexuality or screening room.

The Loft is Page's return to public ministry.


Rocky Past

More than a decade ago, Page was an emerging face for mainstream evangelical churches in Orange County.

The Los Angeles Times branded him a "youthful, atypical preacher" for Gen-X parishioners in the late '90s.

As Page puts it, he gave birth to Rock Harbor Church, an offshoot of what was then Mariners South Coast Church in Newport Beach and Irvine.

Page's baby attracted thousands of young attendees to Costa Mesa. Rock Harbor remains a popular destination for non-denominational Christians.

Page's success in planting the church made his sudden departure all the more difficult. In 2001, four years after Rock Harbor began, Page resigned from his position as the lead pastor of about 2,000 members.

"I left Rock Harbor in kind of a time of crisis," Page said, later explaining, "I burned out. I broke my wedding vows and resigned my ministry."

His departure, just as his appearance, grabbed the spotlight. It once again landed him in The Times and — to an extent — followed him over the next decade.

"I'm trying to let that be a beauty scar, a scar that has marked me, changed me, healed me, but also not one I try to live in that story," he said.

For two years after his resignation, Page focused on his family and his own healing, and in 2003 he returned to Rock Harbor for one last sermon.

He told the church about Lazarus, a man the Gospel of John describes as being raised from the dead by Jesus.

Page's message: "God's not done."

"The question I asked everyone was, 'Gosh I wonder, how did Lazarus live differently after Jesus called him out of the grave?'" Page said. "And Scripture doesn't tell us. There's no evidence of 'Lazarus lived more boldly now, he lived more freely, he lived more courageously, he lived more wildly passionate because he tasted death and now the one who called him up out of the grave gave him new life.'"

But Page has a theory that relates to his own life.

The pastor grew up playing pinball, paying a quarter for three tries at the table.

"What if a fourth pinball popped out?" he asked. "You go for broke."

"The temptation is, do I live in how I think others might define me or how my guilty self might define me?" he said. "Or do I live as if I've been given new life?"


The Loft

Page's resurrection is contained in a nondescript office park on Placentia Avenue, directly across the street from the headquarters for surf apparel company Hurley.

Behind Suite 108's door is The Loft.

Inside, lush rugs and drapes hug exposed concrete and plaster. Dim lighting makes the art gallery-esque space seem candle-lit.

Wooden slat stairways intertwined with exposed pipes hide nooks of office space or storage.

A projector plays college football quietly on a blank wall on a Saturday afternoon while Page lounges sideways on a couch and explains what he's built.

"We're not a church; we're The Loft," he said.

The space is a bohemian community center with an edge, a place for mind, body and spirit where differences of opinion are encouraged, Page said.

"Churches by nature of their dogma and culture can build more walls than bridges," he explained. "I think the best way to build bridges is relationship — relationship of just being with people and having a safe, almost neutral site where a lot of good things can happen. And then I found this on Craigslist four years ago."

In those four years, there was never really a mission for The Loft, and Page managed to fund it through donations or by renting out parts of the suite for events and office space.

In the past few months, The Loft has accelerated as like-minded people discovered it.

"It's just empowering and it's educating," said Anthony Riedelsheimer, one of Page's collaborators.

The 44-year-old co-founder of The Music Factory music school in Costa Mesa found The Loft when he was looking for office space. He is now part of Page's core team.

Despite his Hindu-Buddhist background standing in stark contrast with Page's Christian roots, Riedelsheimer plays a drum during Sunday morning's church services.

He described The Loft as a place that breaks down an illusion of separateness built up through pride or dogma.

"Everyone is trying to make it out like we invented it, we have the best patent on it, our god or our philosophy is the philosophy, the only philosophy, the best philosophy, when at the end it is all the same," Riedelsheimer said. "And I think that's essentially what creates everything we have in this world in terms of chaos and destruction and agony and hate and whatever it is."

Riedelsheimer recently organized a lecture on the physical and energetic qualities of water and played as part of a jazz trio for a Friday night concert at The Loft.

"The more people that get connected here, and they share that same message and that energy and that spirit we have here, I hope that we can really help to empower the community," Riedelsheimer said. "When you throw a stone into water, the moment we threw the stone in the water, we created that first ring."

Later this month, The Loft will host a therapist's talk on "Embracing Your Shadow Self."

Lisa Maurel, a 46-year-old private-practice therapist in Costa Mesa, created the event and brought in a friend to present the topic.

The process was simple and indicative of The Loft, she said.

She pitched the idea, and Page said do it.

"He's not a top-down," Maurel said. "He's an inspirer and a visionary."

Only recently was Page able to pay himself a small amount from his nonprofit, the Global Sticky Network, which officially oversees The Loft.

That name is supposed to evoke an image.

"When I close my eyes I don't so much see one specific type of program or entity or church," Page said. "I see more of a map of a city, a map of a world, and there's all these stick pins in it. And those stick pins, I could tell you about my friends or that community of people in the different stick pins."

In India he would tell of his friend Suresh Kumar working among the poorest of the poor.

In Costa Mesa, Page could tell you about The Loft's monthly health seminars, Wellness Wednesdays, where last month dozens gathered to feast on vegetarian Indian food and watch a documentary advocating a plant-based diet.


Outcast in OC

The Loft embodies a kind of all-acceptance that still manages to position itself as counterculture.

"The Loft is this place that's a center for good in the community, for the community, by the community," Page said.

It's a ministry defined by the human condition of brokenness taught by the Bible and embraced by Page. Reclaimed Church is filled with castoffs from more traditional Christian institutions.

Page's mistakes give him credibility, and his position on the fringes of church attracts similar stories.

"I'm a gay Christian," Parrish, 52, said after putting down his guitar when Sunday's service ended. "So that doesn't give me a lot of spaces."

Parrish spent decades in evangelical churches, including Mariners, but started attending Reclaimed after revealing his sexual orientation.

"I've felt the angry mob enough," he said.

Page, who began his career in the evangelical movement, now speaks sportively of gays and lesbians.

Sexuality is a nonissue at Reclaimed.

"We're not here to fix or save anybody," said Charlie Hedges, a longtime friend of Page's who attends Reclaimed. "We're here to accept and love everybody."

Reclaimed's parishioners and leadership find strength in what they believe a mainstream church would call their flaws.

Hedges, 64, quickly brings up the fact that he attends Alcoholics Anonymous, something that does not preclude him from serving on the board of Page's nonprofit.

"We lead from our own brokenness," Parrish said.


Being understood

Acceptance is something Page himself craves.

At 48, he wears a black ponytail and full beard that is beginning to show some gray, but he emits some of the same youthful exuberance he had when leading services at Rock Harbor.

He is loath to be defined by his transgressions, but his past at Rock Harbor still affects his life.

He and his wife of 17 years divorced about two years ago — more than a decade after he left the pastorship.

Page's oldest daughter was 2 when the family left the church, and the couple were expecting a second child.

"Now they're back at Rock Harbor with their mom," Page said of his kids. "Daddy's over here at The Loft. They kind of get The Loft."

The ex-spouses co-parent in a shared custody arrangement.

Page chose to stay in Costa Mesa because he felt a connection to the community, but his relationship with the churches and people of his past remains complex and unavoidable.

"I'm not invited back to speak anywhere," he said, smiling, cracking a joke in his typical jovial tone.

Page can maintain a boundless energy for hours through a conversation, but it disappeared momentarily when he described the distance between him and the evangelical church for which he was an icon.

He paused for at least 10 seconds, disappearing internally before he answered quietly and deliberately.

"I feel sad," he said. "The challenge is because there is that part of me that wants to be so understood."

He and the church community that shaped him have diverged even though Page still holds to his Bible-based beliefs.

"They're in their mission field doing great Christian work, and I'm in my mission field in the same town doing my own unique Jesus work," he said. "And I cheer them on."

The current leadership at Rock Harbor declined to be interviewed about Page.

Few original parishioners remain at Rock Harbor — none of whom know Page well any more — and they haven't for at least 10 years, said Donna Wells, an administrator at Rock Harbor who was part of Page's original congregation.

Page still passes by the church often and sees familiar faces when he picks his kids up from Mariners Christian School across the street.

"I do pray constantly for my friends in leadership in churches," Page said. "I pray for them for everything I want for myself. So when any of my friends come to my mind, my heart — I see them and get triggered and want to move toward resentment, bitterness, all that stuff — I just pray."



Page believes The Loft could be the model for a new kind of community.

A similar space could appear in Long Beach or Los Angeles without much overhead.

It's a far cry from the echoing auditoriums and expansive parking lots of the churches he came up through.

"I'm not really going fishing for Christians," Page said. "They're probably pretty comfortable, and I'm thrilled for them, but what about those who have no place? My message to them is, 'You can come home.'"

Despite their contrasting appearances and labels, Page's church past and church future share a core.

In the late '90s, Page was known for making a home for the pierced, leather-clad Gen-Xers. At The Loft, he's found a new group of outsiders — old and young — with a similar spiritual message.

"The Loft isn't home," he said. "Home is being comfortable in who you are, in who God made you to be, your identity, but maybe The Loft can be a place that can help you come home. Ultimately I think when you're home, you're with the Father, you're with the Son, you're with the Holy Spirit. That's where home is."

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