Smeby finds hope amid 'unmet expectations'

Mark Smeby_Hope of Christmas tour 2015.jpg
The final stop of Mark Smeby's "Hope of Christmas" tour will be 7 p.m. Saturday at Rochester Covenant Church.

Every year when Mark Smeby embarks on his Hope of Christmas Tour, he knows that many attending his concerts aren't feeling the spirit of the season.

"For a lot of people, the holidays are the most difficult time of the year," Smeby said. "It's a reminder of how alone we can feel because of death or divorce or estrangements of some sort. It seems that the whole world is celebrating and smiling and looks so happy. There are many of us, if given the opportunity to admit it, that it's a hard time. There are a lot of expectations that go unmet."

Smeby will bring his message of hope to town on Saturday night, where he will make the last stop of his Christmas tour at Rochester Covenant Church .

"My goal every year is to create a super fun, engaging, entertaining time for people, where we can celebrate the season, but we also can talk about the reality of the season," he said.

Smeby's candor about the holidays contrasts with his exuberant stage image. After high school he toured for a year with Up With People . Based in Nashville since 1993, Smeby is a multimedia artist, also working as an actor, writer and motivational speaker. Among his upcoming projects is a supporting role in the film "Gracia," scheduled for release in 2016. His latest book, "The Messenger: A Journey Into Hope," will be available in March. He also records a one-minute daily radio feature, " Live Hope Minute."


Smeby said the essence of his ministry, no matter the medium, is "how can I speak truth in a language that everyone understands and make their heart come alive."

His voice should be familiar to many who follow Christian adult contemporary genre. His original compositions "Pilgrim Man" and "Emmanuel (You Are With Me)" received significant airplay. This week, his cover of "Mary, Did You Know?" is the most-downloaded Christmas song on .

Smeby blends traditional Christmas carols, contemporary gospel and pop standards for his Christmas tour. This year, he's added digital duets with some of his favorite singers, ranging from Kelly Clarkson to James Taylor to Frank Sinatra.

An Albert Lea native who spent much of his formative years in the Twin Cities before graduating from high school and attending college in Nebraska, Smeby is well-known to the region's music scene. He visits Rochester often because his parents moved here more than 10 years ago.

As much as he enjoys spending the holidays with his relatives, Smeby admits, like some of his fans, that he feels awkward being a single person in his 40s when he's surrounded by his extended family.

"I think we grow up with the expectations that things are going to look like everybody thinks that they're supposed to look like," Smeby said. "And when you don't, you wonder what's wrong with you. Sometimes I think that singleness is that thing that can feel like a sore thumb in that sea of expectations."

He hopes to use the vulnerability he feels to reach others during his performances.

"For me, the reality in our hope for the season is that God has so much outrageous love for every single one of us," Smeby said. "It's that love that transforms us. It transforms us into someone who is loving as well, not focused on the things that divide us. We're able to see the things that bring us together."


Smeby's goal is to help people feel strengthened and encouraged beyond the holiday season.

"It almost seems like Christmas is the time that we're all in this together more than any time of the year," he said. "And if that is the result of feeling how loved we are, that's a fantastic accomplishment that we can carry throughout the year."

When:7 p.m. Saturday

Where:Rochester Covenant Church, 4950 31st Ave. NW

Admission:Free, but an offering will be accepted.

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