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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Unwrapping our God-given gifts


It’s time to let go of doubts and start shining

June 9, 2021

Chef Steven M. Bright (far right) came to Shadyside Presbyterian Church as its hospitality coordinator. It’s a place where his culinary gifts have shined brightly both in the church and the community. Courtesy of Shadyside Presbyterian Church

A lone candle in the middle of a darkened room greeted the small-group participants. They had gathered for an evening of identifying their gifts — not the spiritual kind of prophesying or speaking in tongues as Paul talks about in the letter to the Corinthians. Those sometimes perplexing and seemingly elusive gifts to the average Christian would require a more intense workshop. Rather, the gifts to be unwrapped were those disguising themselves as talents, passions, interests and even vocations, which could do much in building God’s kingdom.

After taking their seats in the circle of chairs, the facilitator began with a reading from Matthew 5:15: No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Then, a moment of silent reflection was broken by a much harder question: How often do you hide your light, and what good has it done you or the world around you?

In her poem “Our Deepest Fear,” whose lines are often miscredited to Nelson Mandela, author Marianne Williamson writes about how we were all meant to shine in the world and that “we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.”

“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world,” she writes.

Yet playing small seems to be the default button many in the church hit for a variety of reasons, among them the ingrained Christian virtue of humility, says the Rev. Lynn M. Portz, associate pastor for parish life at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.

“We can’t compare our gifts to others, thinking ours are not as helpful or good as someone else’s. Nor should we downplay what we have been given because of this sense of being humble. There are a lot of gifts out there that are needed in building God’s kingdom. We need to use them, and that can only start by people coming forward and using his or her gift. And that starts by being invitational,” she said.

Five years ago, Shadyside Presbyterian extended an invitation to chef Steven M. Bright to join the church staff as its new hospitality coordinator. It was the perfect setting for Bright’s culinary gifts. Not only has he been overseeing the menus for fellowship and special gatherings, the chef, whose earliest kitchen memories are that of being 7 years old and helping his mother and grandmother cook, has been leading cooking classes for the community, showing others how to eat healthy and on a budget.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the church building last spring, it didn’t stop Bright from using his gifts. He began writing “The Quarantined Kitchen” for the church website, sharing tips on how to stay fit during this time of sheltering in place with nutritious food, along with his favorite recipes. He also whipped up 160 picnic lunches that were handed out in the summer to those who were missing the church’s annual strawberry festival. These picnic lunches weren’t bologna sandwiches either, but included barbecue chicken and corn salad, says Portz, adding that Bright “has been a blessing to the church and brings joy to everything he does.” The congregation will be getting a taste of that joy this holiday season as the church leadership plans a “great cookie caper.”

“Among the things the congregation misses are Steven’s cookies,” said Portz. So, the plan is to have the chef bake his most popular ones and have them sent to church members.

The congregation of Shadyside Presbyterian, though, might not have ever met Bright had he pushed aside cooking for a psychology degree. But as he studied the mysteries of the mind, it became clear in his that he was meant to be a chef. “I had this clarity and I never regretted it,” said Bright. Many gifts, though, do get pushed aside due to distractions in life, Bright adds. “We get caught up with what society says we ought to be doing rather than listening to what our hearts are telling us.”

Donna Frischknecht Jackson, Editor, Presbyterians Today

Today’s Focus: God-Given Gifts

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Janeen Lush, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Catherine Lynch, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program

Let us pray:

Gracious God, you showed us the meaning of compassion through your Son, Jesus. Help us to emulate his example as we work to become the church to our communities by demonstrating loving compassion. Amen.