Mandy Smith is the lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, OH. We had a few questions for her!
How would you describe the area your church is in?
A diverse, walkable urban context by the University of Cincinnati campus and lots of restaurants. Culturally very post- (even anti-) Christian.
How would you describe the journey of pastoring UCC? What have been some of the milestones/different seasons?
The church is 30 years old this year and it feels like we’re going through the same kinds of things we go through as individuals when we reach that stage of life–thinking longer term instead of just getting by. It can feel challenging to pastor in a place that is in so much transition all the time but it’s also exciting.
Looking back, what do you know now you wish you had known when you first started at UCC?
That it was normal for this work to feel impossible.
As you think about what you’ve been able to do so far in ministry there what are some things you have done/tried that have worked well?
1. Praying for everything, all the time! 2. Inviting groups to pray for everything all the time.
What hasn’t worked so well? What have you had to rethink/reimagine/rework?
When we opened our cafe 16 years ago we wanted so much to be hospitable to the neighborhood that we said yes to everyone all the time, even letting people keep tabs without asking them to pay, letting folks misuse the space etc. We’ve had to see that hospitality without boundaries is actually welcoming a few people at the expense of others. We almost had to close the cafe as a result of this misunderstanding of hospitality. How would that have been blessing the neighborhood if we said yes to small, unhelpful things so much that it meant saying no to being here long term?
What is one failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
I can think of many things I wish I’d/we’d done differently but at the same time I see how powerfully God’s grace was shown in them (to me and to the church) so I genuinely have a hard time thinking of failures.
What is something you’ve been hearing from or learning from God in this last season of leading?
It’s okay to not have a five year plan but to discern the next step ahead and then, after learning from that stage, to discern what’s next. God provides guidance like he provided manna in the desert – a little at a time. I think it’s so we remember we need him every day.
What do you dream/hope/pray UCC looks like in five years?
Sending even more folks out on mission (in the broadest definition of that term), developing more folks for Christian leadership in whatever work they’re doing. Bringing folks into relationship with Jesus for the first time (not only helping folks recover from church baggage)
We also recently featured Mandy on our Ecclesia Podcast- you can listen here