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Horseshoe Lake mission first served farmers at harvest time

Published: October 3, 2009   
Sarah Morris
Carl Chambers of Horseshoe Lake writes down the song numbers for Saturday Mass at St. Mary of the Lake Church as Father Athanasius Okeiyi practices playing the music on the organ.

HORSESHOE LAKE -- Carl Chambers jokes he is the oldest altar boy in the Catholic Church.

Chambers, who will turn 90 in December, said he has helped the past 10 to 12 pastors to serve at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Horseshoe Lake (Crittenden County).

Greeting everyone by name, Chambers is one of the first smiling faces people see as they enter the church built by hand in 1964.

The church was designed and built in three or four months by a then 24-year-old George Zanone on land his family donated.

"It was a plantation church," Zanone said. "It was one of those churches that was built on a farm."

The concrete block building was finished with brick from the Memphis convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, which closed in 1964. Convent officials allowed Zanone to take bricks, stained glass windows, pews and a St. Mary Euphrasia statue for use in the then-newly built Horseshoe Lake church.

"When built, maybe five families were going to church here," Zanone said. "None lived here; they were just here during crop season."

The church was first used during spring and summer time when growers tended to crops and was closed during the wintertime, Zanone said.

  • St. Mary of the Lake Church
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  • The church later held year-round services after an "influx of people came in and needed full-time priests," Zanone said.

    "It is a resort area church. We don't have but 18-20 residents. Our attendance is around 30 right now but on holidays we will run 100-125 on Fourth of July and 72 on Labor Day."

    Pamela, Zanone's wife, said church members began serving refreshments after Mass 15 years ago. Zanone said, "It was to get everyone acquainted since there was a local crowd and a Memphis crowd that did not know each other."

    Church members said attendance has decreased since Mass was switched from Sunday mornings to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays. Zanone said there were many residents who preferred starting their week with Mass on Sunday morning.

    Chambers said there are eight to 10 families around that will come no matter what time.

    Zanone said the church received pastoral services first through the Diocese of Memphis and now through the Diocese of Little Rock. Father Athanasius Okeiyi currently pastors the church.

    Father Okeiyi, who began coming to St. Mary of the Lake Church on the second Saturday in June, said it was a good church.

    "They are very active," Father Okeiyi, who lives in Brinkley, said.

    Previously the mission was overseen by St. Michael Church in West Memphis, but Mass was not regularly held on the weekends.

    Barbara McKee said church members appreciated Father Okeiyi being able to hold regular Mass.

    "It's been hard this year because we haven't had regular Mass until Father Okeiyi came in and we appreciate this," McKee said.

    McKee, who has attended the church for around 15 years, said Horseshoe Lake was fortunate to have a church since the closest church is 30 minutes away in Memphis.

    Chambers agreed. A former Memphis businessman, Chambers now lives in Horseshoe Lake and enjoys helping out at the church.

    "I inherited this job. I have been going to this church as long as I have been coming over here," Chambers said. He took over church duties officially when the former altar server died of cancer six years ago with a second former altar server moving away at the same time.

    "Before I would fill in once in a while because they never missed," Chambers said.

    Today, Chambers said he gets everything ready for the Mass and helps Father Okeiyi prepare for the liturgy.

    Chamber also serves as the door greeter, prepared to welcome anyone who would like to attend.

    St. Mary of the Lake Church

  • Location: 1713 Horseshoe Circle, Horseshoe Lake

  • Established: 1964

  • Overseen by: St. John the Baptist, Brinkley

  • Mass: 5:30 p.m. Saturdays

  • Sacramental life: No baptisms, first Communions, confirmation, weddings or funerals occurred in 2008. Elise Mae Zanone, the granddaughter of George and Patricia Zanone, was baptized in 2009.

  • Parish life: Refreshments after Mass, potluck in spring and Christmas

  • Parishioner's perspective: Nikki Walker said the church had a fascinating history and was needed in the area. The church was built for vacationers who worked on the weekday and came to the lake on the weekend. "It is the only church we have at the Lake, and I am here all the time." -- Carl Chambers


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