Phil and Rici Skei – Guiding a Life of Purpose and Service

Phil and Rici Skei – Guiding a Life of Purpose and Service

Phil (M.Div. ’06) and Rici (Bell, MA ’05, BA ’02) Skei

Rici and Phil Skei—high school sweethearts—have spent nearly 20 years loving people in one of Fresno’s toughest neighborhoods and learning anew what it means to follow Jesus.

They have lived and served in the heart of the city, and at the downtown church they started in the shadow of the city’s freeways.

“If there’s a prostitute walking down the street, I’m the one to pull over and say, ‘God loves you, and I love you, too,’” Rici says. “I tell her, ‘You’re wonderfully created in the image of God, and you don’t have to continue walking down the street like this. Sis, I don’t know what the next steps are, but you’re beautiful. Here’s a blanket and some shoes.’” She carries them—along with socks, jackets and toiletries—for such encounters. Adds Rici: “I feel a spiritual responsibility for that woman—she’s my sister. I also know her pimp may be nearby. So I don’t want to put the woman or myself at risk.”

For Phil, living and pastoring in their downtown neighborhood challenged and changed his ideas of ministry. “It’s learning to be alongside people and beginning to understand life’s complexities. That’s led to a measure of grace, mercy and love toward people that I otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s just life-changing,” he says.

Rici and Phil met at Fresno’s Edison High School in the mid-1990s. “I was 14 and a loose cannon,” Rici says. “I was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is high school. All the boys are cute. I want a boyfriend.’” Phil was popular and an athlete. He recalls that Rici was “just full of life and bubbly and boisterous and so cute. You can’t be in a room with Rici and not notice her.”

Phil started to go to church with Rici, then broke up with her before quickly knowing he’d made a mistake. “Through a lot of prayer, I realized that Rici was to be my wife. I clumsily pursued her to let her know that I loved her. It was a journey,” he says. And it took seven years.

Fresno Pacific’s influence

Their faith journey took deeper root at Fresno Pacific University. The worship at College Hour inspired Rici, and she also gained a new understanding of community at the university. Phil says he found the study of Scripture at the seminary both academically invigorating and a portal to “experiencing God in new and fresh ways.”

After the couple married in 2001, they made a home in North Fresno but in 2006 moved to the Lowell neighborhood, a poor area on the edge of downtown Fresno. Family members thought they were crazy. “Our answer was simply, ‘God is up to something, and we want to be part of it,’” Rici says. In the neighborhood, they had mentors like Randy White, D.Min., now-retired faculty at FPU, and the late H Spees, a pastor and city official. Both men and their families lived in Lowell.

Rici and Phil opened themselves to their neighbors—including gang members—and deep relationships followed. They celebrated milestones and grieved tragedies with folks, mindful of Jesus’ example. “He didn’t go to the places that had all the power, prestige and privilege,” Rici says. “Jesus made his home among those who didn’t have much.”

In 2011, Rici and Phil took a big step when they started—and began co-pastoring—On Ramps Covenant Church in downtown Fresno. It’s located near on-ramps to Freeways 41, 99 and 180, but the name also captures a spiritual truth. People experience different spiritual on-ramps to faith—some long and gradual, others filled with twists and turns, Phil says.

On Ramps shares its space with several businesses, a martial arts group, a dance school and an athletic social enterprise—all designed to impact the neighborhood for the good. Rici also opened their home to tutor elementary school students and to direct a mentoring program for girls in elementary and middle school. But now that season in her life—and Phil’s—is ending.

On to Omaha

In October 2023, Rici left On Ramps to become associate superintendent of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Midwest Conference with headquarters in Omaha, NE. She oversees and helps pastors and other church staff in 96 congregations in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. “I wasn’t looking for a new job, but the invitation to join the Midwest Conference wasn’t a surprise either. I knew God was up to something. I just didn’t know what,” Rici says.

She started splitting her time between Fresno and Omaha, while Phil continued to pastor at On Ramps and work as assistant director of planning & development for the City of Fresno. This summer, Rici, Phil and their younger daughter, Kaylin, a high school sophomore, will move to Omaha. Older daughter, Kadence, a high school senior, will remain in California to attend college.

In moving, Rici will leave behind her extended family. “It will be hard, but I’m open to this change,” she says. “It will be a fresh reset and restart for me and for our family.” While Phil is in the process of firming up a new job, he’s at peace with the journey ahead. “I couldn’t be more proud of Rici, and excited for her and for our denomination because it’s invited her to serve in this way. It’s really profound for me, and I’m just overjoyed.”


Doug Hoagland