Lacing up for God
Written by Gayle Starling-Melvin
March 2001
March 1, 2001

The story of one 16-year-old's quest for confirmation—as a championship skater and as a member of his beloved church

Parker Pennington, 16, of First UCC in Windsor, Conn., is devoted to three things: his church, God and the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Pennington will be confirmed at First Church early next year. That, in itself, is not unusual. What is out of the ordinary is that he is studying for his confirmation through e-mail while living in a Cleveland-area suburb.

As the U.S. Junior Men's champion in ice skating, Pennington trains with 1960 Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion Carol Heiss Jenkins at Winterhurst Rink in Lakewood, Ohio. Although currently sidelined because of a dislocated shoulder he received skating in a benefit for the family of Svetlana Korneitchenko, the Russian skating coach who died as the result of a one-car accident in December, Pennington remains hopeful for the future.

Pennington is a natural in the sport of ice skating. He began skating at age 3 and, by 8, was taking private lessons. He met Heiss Jenkins during a summer visit to relatives in Tiffin, Ohio.

"I had seen her on television and liked her style and personality," he says. " I asked my parents if I could take lessons from her."

To help the young skater fulfill his dream, Pennington's mother, Andrea, and brother, Colin, moved to Cleveland, while his father, Larry, stayed home in Connecticut with his veterinary- medicine practice.

Pennington's parents, who joined the UCC in 1980, have helped him strive for spiritual goals as well. When Pennington decided to become a member, he also decided that he wanted to be confirmed at First UCC, the church in which he grew up. There was one catch: he needed to remain in the Cleveland area to train.

So his father spoke with the Rev. Richard Hanna Huleatt, First UCC's pastor, and a unique program was set up—confirmation classes by e-mail.

Once a week, after studying the Bible and his confirmation book, Pennington e-mails his work to his confirmation instructor, Cory Reardon.

Pennington says he is looking forward to confirmation. "I know being confirmed will enforce my personal faith in God," he says. "Being a UCC member means I will be worshiping with people who have the same beliefs as I do."

He talks about how his family has sacrificed for his dreams.

"I have nothing but respect and admiration for my family," he says, looking somewhat melancholy. "I love my father very much and I miss him every day. When he comes to Cleveland, or I go home, I spend all of my time with him. Both of my parents and my brother are special." When his father visits on weekends, Pennington attends Sunday services at Dover Congregational UCC in Westlake, Ohio, with him.

A sophomore at Lakewood High School, Pennington maintains a 4.0 grade point average. His high school is supportive of his skating endeavors. "Lakewood has a special program for students who are pursuing activities such as I am," he says. "I adjust my schedule to fit my needs and the school's requirements."

When he's not skating, Pennington says he enjoys basketball, baseball, bike riding, shopping or going to movies with his friends. As part of the skating regimen, he takes ballet twice weekly. He also volunteers with the Special Olympics, teaching mentally challenged children how to ice skate.

"I really look forward to Saturdays," he says with a smile. "Some of my students can even do single jumps!"

After his skating career ends, Pennington says he would like to attend Duke University and become a physician in the field of sports medicine.

His advice to young people pursuing their goals?

"Work hard at it. Try your best and keep trying, even if you fail."

Parker Pennington injured his shoulder performing a triple lutz jump at the Korneitchenko benefit. "At least he didn't do it just fooling around on the ice," said his coach, Carol Heiss Jenkins. "He did it doing a nice thing."  

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org