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Methodist Mother Theresa laid to rest

Sister Rona Collins

Church leaders, parishioners and former residents of the Papanui Children’s Home gathered en masse at Papanui Methodist Church last month to farewell one of the Church’s most inspiring figures, Sister Rona Collins.

Sister Rona began training as a deaconess in 1946 and in 1948 she was appointed to the Papanui Children’s Home, which housed boys and girls from broken homes. She stayed at the Home for the next 37 years, providing children who had known tragic circumstances security, self esteem and the love of a mother.

Rev Marcia Baker wrote a book on the New Zealand order of Methodist deaconesses. Marcia says at times Sister Rona felt angry and even wept at the injustices she found in society. But she was basically a happy person and a born optimist, who often shared the healing power of laughter.

At one point Rona wrote "I believe in kids and teenagers and people and the Church and God’s power to change people’s lives. Unconditional love as shown in the life of Jesus is big enough to forgive anything, large enough to surround any person and family, and great enough to work a miracle of change."

In 1980 Rona became vice president of the Methodist Church of NZ, the second deaconess to hold the office. Later she served as a supply minister in Marton, Te Awamutu, Gisborne, Invercargill and Oxford. Eventually she retired to Christchurch and a home of her own that she shared with her puppet Poppy and an endless stream of visitors.

Marcia says wherever Rona went people loved her but they also found that, when she asked you to do a job, it was virtually impossible to say no. "People discovered in the process they had hidden talents because she was a mentor, encourager and leader and did not stand by and do nothing herself."

Methodist Church of NZ president Rev Brian Turner took part in Rona’s funeral service. He says she was New Zealand Methodism’s Mother Theresa.

"I understand Sister Rona was initially reticent about doing pastoral work but she turned into an incredibly dynamic pocket rocket, who epitomised the servanthood we see so clearly in Jesus. She was selfless, totally focused and totally emptied of self ambition. Despite this she had her follies. As we learned in her funeral service, she was fond of the television show Dallas and liked the character JR in particular."

Rev Saikolone Taufa is presbyter at Papanui Methodist Church where Rona continued to worship. He began his tenure there as a probationer and was taken under Rona’s wing.

During her funeral service he conveyed the story of a trip across Christchurch with her to visit someone at Princess Margaret Hospital. A trip that could be made in 20 minutes lasted all day as Rona stopped to visit people, run errands, mail letters, and do favours for others.

Testament to Rona’s influence was the culmination of her funeral service when former residents of the Children’s Home were asked to form a guard of honour for her casket. Dozens of people rose from the congregation to see her off on her final journey.

An honour guard of those who once lived with Sister Rona Collins at Papanui Children's Home bears witness as she sets off on her final journey.