By Fred Koenig
Hue Parnell, pastor of Fairview UMC near Springfield, found the vessels being used by many churches to be lacking. When it comes time for the sacraments, some pastors are essentially using items from the kitchen. Some of the bowls being employed lack the beauty desired for the occasion. Sure, there are places to buy pottery for the sacraments, but Parnell found most of what he had seen either wasn’t of the quality he expected, or it was too expensive.
If Parnell sounds picky he has earned that right. He’s been throwing pots for about 45 years.
Parnell now makes communion sets, baptismal fonts, infant baptism bowls, foot washing bowls, and other items, and calls his business Faith Vessels, in addition to pottery he makes for other purposes through Parnell Studios. A full-time potter and a part-time pastor, Parnell has been part of the United Methodist Church for eight years. When he and his wife Marla got married they visited 13 churches, and settled on Antioch UMC.
“I found the Methodist church aligned very well with my own beliefs,” he said. “And we really related to the people at Antioch, and liked the music there.”
The United Methodist Church may have had an advantage when they went into the church-shopping process, though. Marla’s parents, Dale and Betty Dieck, were founding members of Wesley UMC in Springfield.
After leading a small group around Rick Warren’s A Purpose Driven Life, Parnell decided to pursue a call to ministry. He went to licensing school at Central Methodist University, and his first church was Yeakley Chapel.
“I made lifelong friends through licensing school,” he said. “An important part of the process was connecting to others who were doing the same thing.”
Parnell is currently enrolled in Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and will be going back there next summer.
He hasn’t always made pottery his full-time profession. He has four degrees, including a PhD in curriculum studies from Oklahoma State University, and has worked in many educational settings, from teaching through being a principal.
Parnell’s origins in pottery is a story unto itself. His father was serving in combat in a Korean war, and found a young boy hiding in a ditch. He was able to reunite the child with his family. The family became lifetime friends, and when the boy turned 18 he came to the U.S. to serve in the Army under Parnell’s father’s command.
While here, he asked Parnell’s father to teach him his side business, television repair. He agreed, but asked his young Korean friend to teach his son his trade, making pottery.
“I was 14 years old at the time,” he said. “He was from a potter’s family that had been making pottery for hundreds of years. They made things for everyday use that had to be kept very consistent in size to fit on the shelves. I still have a lot of Korean influence in my pottery.”
Parnell also went to college for ceramic studies, and traveled around the country, learning from the other potters whom he respected the most.
He feels his life experiences are all contributing well to his potter/pastor role. With Faith Vessels, he is making pottery from a pastor’s perspective. Bowls used for the intonation of ashes are appropriately sized and shaped to be held with one hand. Vessels for infant baptism are sometimes given to the parents as a keepsake for the occasion.
Most people in the Missouri Conference have seen his work, though they may not know it. His pottery has been used for communion at the last few Annual Conference sessions, and he sets up shop in the exhibit area as a vendor.