Memorial service today for Brian Ollman who passed away unexpectedly last week in California at the age of 40. He was a good friend and I will miss him. I have some photos back home of when he and Heidi came out to stay with us in Scotland.
Brian and his friends in Pomona, California started a spiritual community called Icthus. Alongside it, they launched the Millennia Co-op, a co-operatively structured group of businesses which included a vintage clothing store, web design lab, a jiu-jitsu studio, a club for DJ’s and more. We visited them in the late 90’s and had a great time.
When Alan Hirsh was doing research for his book The Shaping of Things to Come, he asked me who he should visit in southern California and I strongly suggested Brian’s ministry in Pomona. Which might be where some of you have read about it.
One of my craziest memories of Brian was when he came over to Austin, Texas in 2001 as creative director for our multi-media worship installation called Epicenter. Mark Scandrette and Brian found a room full of choir robes at First Baptist Church of Austin and insisted on wearing them. A few weeks later, the photos of white robed worshippers appeared and some people thought it was a pagan event. We had to explain about Brian’s crazy idea of robe wearing. He also created the “Senses Lab” with a light room complete with statements that “God is light” and a wind machine so worshippers could think about the Holy Spirit and Acts 2.
That’s Brian standing in the center of the play space. Towards the end of the event, everyone came into the main sanctuary where Brian had gathered dirt and trash from around the city. We were invited to take off our shoes, enter the pile and have communion, consisting of bread in a dirty wrapping and a bottle of cheap red wine in a brown bag. When asked about the service and the dirt, Brian was quoted in an article as saying the filth represented God’s “coming into our messiness to lift us up and animate us.”
The last time I saw Brian and Heidi was 4 years ago in Santa Monica where Brian was lending his talents to the movie industry. Brian was an amazingly creative, spiritual, emotional, crazy guy and he will be missed sorely. He impacted all of us. Prayers for his family.
Read on for an excerpt from ‘Shaping’ about Brian’s ministry in Pomona. We are seeing many sustainable church models these days that include business and social enterprise but Brian was doing this a decade ago.
Ways & Means
Case Study 2:
The Millennia Co-op
The brainchild of Brian Ollman, Millennia is mission experiment that combines proximity spaces (places or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully), shared projects (shared or joint projects between the Christian community and the host community), business enterprises, and indigenous faith communities. Their mission statement reads: “The Millenia Co-op advances cultural renewal and personal transformation through the integration of the arts, community, spirituality, business and public service. The Millennia Co-op consists of several inter-connected projects, all centred in the Pomona Arts Colony. Each Millennia Co-op project provides opportunities for creative expression, employment and connecting in a healing community centred around Jesus. Each Millennia Co-op project is designed to incorporate one or more of the four features we mention above:
Millennia art lounge: The Lounge is the Millennia Co-op’s storefront project (literally). A street level store right on Second Street has been converted into a performance space/dance venue that hosts a weekly poetry night, live bands, hip-hop music, and house music events. All regular events are free or low cost and provide an alcohol and drug-free space for a diverse group of young people to hang out and create community. The Millennia Lounge also hosts occasional art exhibitions as local artist, including the homeless, can gain exposure to their work and expression (note: proximity space, with an element of shared project). Millennia art studio: The studio has been established in the rear of the basement and is accessible by a side door from an alley. Here, beginning and experienced artists create together in a community environment. Free studio space is available, as are art workshops and vocational training courses. The artists who use the studio (Christian and not-yet-Christian) occasionally take their work to the streets by producing murals and art installations to beautify the city. It’s from the studio that much of the work for the exhibitions in the Lounge comes (note: shared project and proximity space).
Millennia design group: Established in an open-plan office in a loft above the Lounge, the lab specialises in
creative graphic designs that attract customers from an assortment of businesses in Pomona and beyond. It produces business cards, websites, letterheads, and other business collateral (note: business enterprise). Innerworld: Millennia’s electronic dance culture collective hosts a weekly house music event in the Lounge and also makes a positive impact on the host community through projects like picking up trash and serving teh homeless (note: shared project).
Millennia JiuJitsu: In the front of the basement under the Lounge, there are weekly jiujitsu wrestling classes that promote community relationships and personal fitness (note: business enterprise and proximity spaces). Ichthus: At the core of the Millennia Co-op is an indigenous faith community called Ichthus. Originally one small group meeting in Brian Ollman’s home, it has grown now to three cell churches and continues to burgeon. Members of the church responsible for several of the Millennia projects, and the leadership network (not elected, merely recognised) meet regularly to consider the future direction of the mission. Those members of Ichthus that we met saw their involvement as that of missionaries. The people who have come to Ichthus and then made a commitment to Christ were first accessed through the Lounge or jiujitsu of the Studio.
Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, Chapter 2, Pp. 28-29