Sharon Richards with the cross she made for St James Union church, Rev Paul Rogers, and wife Colleen. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Steve Rendle
Steve.rendle@age.co.nz

St James’ Union Church in Masterton now has a full complement of crosses, thanks to the efforts of parishioner Sharon Richards.

The church’s buildings include two former churches – St Stephen’s and St John’s – which were originally in other parts of Masterton.

St Stephen’s hall, formerly church, was moved in the early 1970s, but somewhere along the way, lost its original cross.

One building in the church complex, the Rainbow room, lacked a cross, and that irked St James minister, the Rev Paul Rogers.

Richards, a retired nurse, decided to make one herself, using skills developed at the Masterton Henley Men’s Shed, where she has developed fine woodworking and turning skills.

The choice of a St Stephen’s cross, which features a circle, was chosen to acknowledge the lost cross.

“It’s slightly Celtic,” she said of the design in recycled rimu.

“I think it might have been somebody’s bedhead.”

Rogers is very pleased with the cross – “We are delighted she was prepared to take it on – it’s a St Stephen’s cross, so it’s a bit more complicated.”

But he has never seen the finished article, having been blind since the age of 18.

He’s been minister at St James for the past two and half years, having originally moved to Masterton to care for his mother, Grace Wheeler, also blind, who received a Queen Service Order for services to the disabled community.

She died in 2016, but Rogers, now 70, is now also the parish supervisor for Featherston.

He reckons he is now known from Kaitaia to the Bluff having worked in the far north as well as far south as Owaka in Southland.

Rogers says it is highly appropriate he has ended up in Masterton.

“My ancestors, William John Budd and his wife Fanny, were pioneers here in the 1870s.

“I’m related to half the community, but they don’t know it. I’m the one with the family tree.”

He recalls vividly the day, and time, he went blind – November 17, 1965, at 2.30pm.

After suffering eye problems aged 11 and 14, he had already lost sight in one eye when an accident ploughing a field on a farm near Dargaville aggravated issues.

He was riding on the plough when it struck a buried object and he fell on the draw bar.

A couple of days later, he was helping a neighbour shear sheep when the strain of the work caused his vision to fail.

“I looked at the sheep, and they turned purple. The neighbour’s daughter came through the door, and she was purple . . . I knew what was happening, so I just went outside and waited for help.”

Despite several operations, his sight did not return.

Initially he went on to work making baskets at the Blind Foundation, but that wasn’t his cup of tea, and he became a telephonist working for the Marine Department in Auckland and then a building supply company in Whangarei.

At 40, he felt called to study as a minister going on to work around the country, as well as in Samoa, before eventually reaching Masterton.

His blindness has never held him back, as he has worked and travelled extensively – but he emphasises it has all been done with the help of his wife, Colleen.

“I’ve never been limited in what I do by the fact that I couldn’t see. I haven’t let it stop me doing things,” he said.

“But I’m very fortunate that I’ve had the help of Colleen in everything I’ve done. Without her I would have been sunk years ago!”