Short biographies by Donald Phillipps, David Bell and Beverley Pullar

Riding John Wesley

Rita Snowden, born at Brightwater in 1907, grew up in Hope, in the south of the Nelson province. While still a young girl she felt a call to overseas missionary service, but after her two years of training at Deaconess House in Christchurch (1927-28) was sent, instead, to the Home Mission Station at Raetihi. After a year she moved further north to Otorohanga.

She was then stationed into Auckland, and with the exception of one year at Kurahuna Home in Masterton, all her ministry was spent there, firstly in social service work at the Auckland Central Mission. For over four years she was the travelling representative of the Methodist Literature and Colporteur Society, taking books all over the country in her caravan, and during the war years she worked in Epworth Bookshop in the city. From 1946 onwards she was on the staff of the Home Mission Department, and in 1948 was invited to visit Australia to speak at the Queensland Methodist Centenary.

She wrote her first book in 1933. The reaction to Through Open Windows, written during a time of illness, encouraged her to continue writing, and over a period of 56 years, she averaged more than one book, mostly of a devotional nature, each year. At the same time she took up broadcasting and became well-known in that medium as well. Her international reputation was considerable, and she was elected a Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters (F.I.A.L) in 1962. She was also elected to the Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) in 1970.

The Church honoured her by electing her as the first woman Vice President of Conference in 1956, and some years later in 1975 her international status as a writer was recognised with the award of the O.B.E. She retired from active deaconess work in 1966. In retirement she lived in various parts of Auckland, and kept up a regular flow of books for publication until in her eighties. She died early in December of this year (1999).

The 68 books published from 1933 to 1986 were:

  1. Through Open Windows; Letters from Joan to Jill, Unity Press, Auckland, 1933 (reprinted 12 times up to 1940)
  2. If I Open my Door, Epworth, London, 1937 (reprinted 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940) 
  3. When we two Walked; a Pilgrimage in Spring, Epworth, London, 1939
  4. The Winds Blow, Epworth, London, 1940
  5. ‘‘With Two Hands’, Methodist Literature and Colporteur Society, Auckland, 1940
  6. A Thousand Sunrises, Epworth, London, 1944
  7. ‘While the Candle Burns’; a Book of Devotions, Epworth, London, 1946
  8. The Lark is in the Sky, Epworth, London, 1946
  9. Safety Last! Stirring Tales of the Pacific, Epworth, London, 1946
  10. ‘Listen, Children!’ True Stories and Object Talks, Epworth, London, 1948 (reprinted 1949, 1952)
  11. Never a Dull Moment; Life and Letters of Annie James, Presbyterian Bookroom, Christchurch and Dunedin, 1948
  12. Prodigal of the Seven Seas, Epworth, London, 1949
  13. Today; a Book of Devotions, Epworth, London, 1949
  14. There’s no place like Home, Epworth, London, 1950
  15. Story-time Again, Epworth, London, 1951
  16. From the Pen of F. Truby King; Chapters compiled from the Writings and Lectures of the late Truby King. “His Life and Work”, by Rita F. Snowden; “Infant loss in New Zealand”, by Helen Deem, Whitcombe and Tombs, Auckland, 1951 (for the Truby King Booklet Committee)
  17. Sung in our Hearts; Studies in the Psalms, Epworth, London, 1952
  18. I turn to Ducks, Epworth, London, 1953
  19. As the Sun Climbs, Epworth, London, 1952
  20. Trees Unafraid, Epworth, London, 1952
  21. What Time is it? A Book of Stories for Preachers and Teachers and Fathers and Mothers and all Friends of Boys and Girls , Epworth, London, 1953
  22. Here be People , Epworth, London, 1954
  23. His Interpreters; a Book for the Dawning and the Closing of the Day, Epworth, London, 1955
  24. Over the Hills and Home Again, Epworth, London, 1955
  25. The Ark at the end of the Garden; Children’s Stories for Church and Home, Epworth, London, 1956
  26. Seven Days of the Week, Epworth, London, 1956
  27. From a Hilltop, Epworth, London, 1956
  28. Hobson’s Choice; Thirty Stories for Boys from nine to twelve, Epworth, London, 1957
  29. The Ladies of Wesleydale, Epworth, London, 1957 (published as Vol 15, No.2 Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society NZ Branch)
  30. I believe in the Dawn, Epworth, London, 1958
  31. ‘Parts of His Ways’; a Book of Devotions, Epworth, London, 1958
  32. Love came down at Christmas, Epworth, London, 1958
  33. The Kindled Flame, Epworth, London, 1959
  34. Trumpets in the Morning; Stories for Boys and Girls, Epworth, London, 1960
  35. Richly to Enjoy, Epworth, London, 1961
  36. Bells from many a Steeple; a Book for the Dawning and the Closing of the Day, Epworth, London, 1961
  37. High Business, Epworth, London, 1961
  38. Around the World; True Stories for Boys and Girls, Epworth, London, 1962
  39. As Fresh as a Daisy, Epworth, London, 1963
  40. Such a Woman; the Story of Susanna Wesley, Epworth, London, 1963
  41. The Fifth Sparrow, Epworth, London, 1964
  42. Grasshopper Green, Epworth, London, 1964
  43. Sunlight and Sea, Epworth, London, 1965
  44. Ten Little Tadpoles, Epworth, London, 1965
  45. Over the Doorstep, Epworth, London, 1966
  46. The Time of our Lives, Abingdon, Nashville, 1966
  47. A Woman’s Book of Prayers, Collins, Fontana Paperbacks, 1968. This book was commissioned by Collins as a companion to William Barclay’s A Plain Man’s Book of Prayers. Barclay himself wrote the Foreword to Rita Snowden’s work. The book ran to 17 editions.
  48. A Show of Hands, Epworth, London, 1969
  49. Prayers for the Family, Epworth, London, 1970
  50. Travelling Light, Epworth, London, 1970
  51. People are People, Epworth, London, 1971
  52. On the Tip of my Tongue; Devotional Openings for Meetings, Epworth, London, 1972
  53. Where the Action is; Modern Stories and Prayers, Collins, in cooperation with Christian Book Promotion Trust, 1972
  54. The Sun is High,. (autobiography) Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1974
  55. Prayers in Later Life, Fontana, London, 1974
  56. Lively Stories for Children; for Teachers, Parents, Preachers, and Club-Leaders, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1975
  57. More Prayers for Women, Collins (Fontana), London, 1975
  58. When my Visitors go; a Book for one sick in Hospital or at Home, Collins (Fontana), London, 1976
  59. Shafts of Sunlight, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1976
  60. It’s a Pleasure; Devotional Openings for Meetings, Epworth, London, 1977
  61. When Sorrow Comes, Collins (Fountain Books) with the Christian Book Promotion Trust, London, 1977
  62. Christianity Close to Life, Collins (Fount Paperbacks) London, 1978
  63. Prayers for busy People, Collins (Fount Paperbacks) London, 1978
  64. Bed-time Stories and Prayers, Collins (Fount Paperbacks) London, 1979
  65. I Believe Here and Now, Collins (Fount Paperbacks) London, 1981
  66. Discoveries that Delight; a Fresh Love of the Psalms, Collins (Fount Paperbacks) London, 1982
  67. Good Company, Collins (Fount Paperbacks) London, 1985
  68. Sharing Surprises, Fount London, 1989

A Tribute to Sister Rita Snowden
by Beverley Puller

Rita Snowden was born in Brightwater, raised in Hope on 7 January 1907 and died in Auckland on 30 November, 1999. Her twin sister, Mrs Edna Price, died in Richmond in 1997. The twins were born into an Anglican family, but when they moved to a house opposite the Methodist Church in Brightwater, the children went to Sunday School there. This was the beginning of Rita’s lifelong relationship with the Methodist Church.

Even as a young woman in Brightwater Methodist Church, her leadership skills were quickly evident as she was active in almost every aspect of the life of the church. After training as a Methodist Deaconess, Sister Rita worked at Raetihi, travelling many miles on rough roads preaching, teaching and ministering to people on her famous (or infamous) motor bike, John Wesley. In the depression years she served as a deaconess at the Auckland Methodist central Mission. After several years at the Mission, ill health laid her on her back for two years. God used this time as a means of guiding her into what turned out to be her widest ministry - writing.

Rita has written some 84 books which, although not so easily obtainable these days, have been translated into many languages, and frequently into several editions. Her A Woman’s Book of Prayer ran to 17 editions. Some have been transcribed into Braille. Sister Rita’s aim in her writing was to share the relevance of the Christian faith to daily living. This she did through humour, poetry and anecdote. She had the ability to find a story in everyday events and things. Her regular contributions to religious journals both in New Zealand and overseas were greatly appreciated.

For four and a half years, Rita was responsible for selling books and literature on behalf of the Methodist Church. During this time she travelled from one end of New Zealand to the other with a caravan that was both her home and Methodist book room. Only war restrictions brought this to an end. Sister Rita was introduced to broadcasting in 1931 and for years took her share in broadcasts for the Methodist Church, in book reviews and talks.

The memorial tribute to Sister Rita was appropriately made by Rev Mervyn Dine. For 10 of the 20 years Rita lived in Takapuna, Mervyn would be her presbyter. Stories of Mervyn figure in her 1986 publication Like Wind on the Grasses. “Her library fascinated me,” recalled her long-time presbyter. “Those who have read her books will know that some of them are anthologies. She was good friends with William Barclay and Dr Frank Cumbers, one time editor of Epworth Publishing. She knew personally many of the great names of English Methodism. She had friends in many parts of the world. One year I visited her on her birthday and saw the beautiful bouquet of flowers she received from her long-time friend, Lady Collins of the publishing firm bearing the same name. Lady Collins would get people to write to Rita (because Lady Collins herself was blind) encouraging Rita to write another book. I recall once trying to get Rita to invest in a computer but she was quick to inform me she was too old for such new toys. I couldn’t convince her of the time she would save She had this little portable typewriter which tapped away and, if she made a mistake, out came the correcting fluid, and then, when the page was finished, re-type it for the good copy.”

In 1956, Sister Rita Snowden became the first woman Vice-President of the Methodist Church of New Zealand. She was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Arts and Letters in 1962, to the Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) in 1970, and decorated with the OBE in 1975.

Over the years this accomplished public speaker travelled widely lecturing and preaching up and down New Zealand and in every Australian State, also in Canada, the USA, the United Kingdom and the Pacific Islands. As a writer, preacher, public speaker, prison visitor, traveller, she sought to serve God.

It has been said that her chief indoor sport was conversation, and her passion ‘people’.

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Rita Snowden

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