Serving the High Plains

Sacred survivor

NARA VISA - Sacred Heart Catholic Church is a survivor.

The small but picturesque white chapel that sits on a hill overlooking the northeastern Quay County village has been there for more than a century. It's remained despite the ebbing of the village's population and the closing of its school decades ago and virtually all of its businesses.

And thanks to a small but stalwart group of parishioners, Sacred Heart Catholic Church emerged from a COVID-19 pandemic that closed it for almost a year. It will mark Easter Sunday this weekend with a Mass. The church hosts Masses twice a month.

Renee Rinestine, 78, said she has attended the church her entire life. Her father went to Sacred Heart Catholic Church when he was a child, and he was married there in 1929 when "it was the only church back then."

Over the decades, Rinestine said she's attended weddings, baptisms and several funerals there, including rites just a few months ago.

Jimmy Burns said his parents went to the church, and he and his wife Liz have attended Mass there for about 40 years.

"We were married in that church, and all three of our children were baptized in that church," Liz said during a telephone interview. "Funeral rites were held for his parents and one middle son."

Rinestine and Jimmy Burns weren't sure the year Sacred Heart Catholic Church was built, though he estimated it was between 1905 and 1910. Both are certain the chapel is more than 100 years old.

Burns holds vivid memories of the church from his childhood.

"The church then had two woodstoves in it, potbelly stoves," he said. "They had a big potbelly stove towards the back of the building and a smaller potbelly stove. I remember as a kid we'd have to bring in wood to get the fire going before Mass started. We all sat together towards the middle and bonded together to stay warm."

Burns said Sacred Hearth Catholic Church underwent significant interior renovations during the mid-1970s. He said its once-brown walls were repainted and brightened.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church remains a favorite subject for photographers. Jake Werth's photo of the white chapel with an ominous thunderstorm in the background was featured in the New Mexico Magazine's Photos of the Year issue in 2020.

"It really photographs very well," Liz Burns acknowledged.

Rhinestine said under certain conditions, the church can be spotted from more than 40 miles away.

"There is a spot on I-40 where you can see this church," she said. "I think it's on the other side of San Jon. Somebody told me where it was, and we did see it."

"We're just really proud of our little church, and we sure do want to keep it," Rhinestine added. "It's quaint; it's beautiful. We're so proud to keep it going."

During a recent Mass in early April, honey-colored light streamed through the windows as the Rev. John Paul Afuecheta, who also is the priest at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Tucumcari, conducted the service for four parishioners.

Noting it was the fifth Sunday of Lent, Afuecheta talked about the promise of a new life for the faithful.

"The Lord has done great things for us," he said. "We are filled with joy."

Rinestine and Burns said they have a core group of seven to 12 members who attend Mass. Many hold multi-generational ties to the church.

"Most of the families that went when my parents were there that have passed," Jimmy Burns said. "We're kind of the older of the bunch now. There's not many of us left."

So what keeps the church going?

"It's something we've always taken a lot of pride in. You don't think twice about it," he said.

"Rural people try to support their church as much as they can because they don't want something to happen to it," Liz Burns replied.

Rhinestine supplied a succinct answer: "Faith in God."

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