The honour of being in charge of one of New Zealand’s most historic churches is not lost on Reverend Ramari (Marie) Collin.
As priest-in-charge at Ōtaki’s Rangiātea Church, Marie senses keenly the importance of the role to maintain and grow the church as a significant part of the Ōtaki community. She’s also aware of those who have come before her, including early missionaries Octavius Hadfield and Samuel Williams.
Others include Tamihana Te Rauparaha (son of the famous chief) and Matene Te Whiwhi, who were responsible for bringing Hadfield to Ōtaki, and in more recent times the late Rev Te Hopehuia Hakaraia and Rev Douin Hapeta.
“It’s an honour to be here,” she says.
Marie is no newcomer to Ōtaki. Her mother was Kato (Doris) Ropata of Ngāti Huia ki Katihiku, so Marie spent many holidays staying at Katihiku Marae south of the Ōtaki River.
Her father, Tinirau Akuira, had strong connections to Rangitāne through his Te Rangi whānau, as well as Ngāti Kahungunu, so most of Marie’s childhood was in Masterton.
However, in the early 1970s, she came to live with her Nan, Ramari Ropata (nee Hawea), in Temuera Street. She went to Ōtaki Primary School for two years and had a year at Ōtaki College before returning to finish her schooling at Wairarapa College.
“I loved those days in Ōtaki. I remember strawberry picking in Convent Road and swimming in the river. We had freedom. Great days.”
Any calling to the church was far from Marie’s mind when she left school. In fact it was only decades later that the idea couldn’t be ignored.
Meantime, there was a job in Masterton doing clerical work at a timber mill and then in 1977 the lure of Australia. She had jobs in Sydney, mostly at the Deluxe Red & Yellow taxi company as a personal assistant to the general manager. She also worked for a time at American Express as a debt collector. Living in Bondi, Marie played netball for the Astra club.
Moving up to Queensland, she worked as a cook and deckhand on a fishing trawler, was a brickie’s labourer, and worked for a retailer and the biggest debt agency in Queensland as a debt collector.
Then she met and married Australian David Collin. Together they ran a backhoe business in Mt Tambourine, Queensland, meantime having two girls and a boy. Marie became part of the inaugural Brisbane Māori Mission Church in Brisbane, was commissioned as kaikarakia for the church and was liturgical assistant for St Paul’s. She studied theology.
“It was then just an interest in how the Anglican Church worked,” she says.
“I didn’t really see it leading anywhere. But I had always wanted to learn te reo Māori. So I ended up back in New Zealand where I began studying seriously.”
She was particularly interested in the journey of Māori in Christianity and returned to Masterton, then took on a three-year degree with Te Whare Wānanga o te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa, through the office of Te Upoko o Te Ika – based at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.
It incorporated her interest in how Māori embraced Christianity. It was soon clear she had a role in the church and she was encouraged to be a deacon.
That happened in 2007 when she was appointed as deacon at Te Hepara Pai Church in Masterton, and in 2009 she became a priest. Then her whānau in Ōtaki began asking if she would consider a role at Rangiātea Church. It was an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I remember Aunty Georgia [Hapeta] ringing to say the vestry had agreed to me coming. We talked about the expectations of the church and the community. I felt I was up for it. I was looking forward to the change and the challenge.”
Marie began as priest-in-charge on December 17, 2017. With her already strong connections to Ōtaki and with whānau support, the move was smooth and enabled her to “get things done”.
Marie sees her work as important and hopes to build back up the congregation at the church.
Conducting services at local marae supports her work, and she has built a good relationship with the other local ministers and churches. As for being in the great church, Marie is humble and grateful it was rebuilt after fire destroyed the original church in 1995.
“It’s a fantastic church for the community. Everyone reveres Rangiātea and visitors are just awestruck. I love being part of it.
“From Psalm 51:10, Create in me a clean heart, o God; and renew a right spirit within me.”