Documentary reveals life in Gloriavale sect
There are only two ways to leave Gloriavale. One is to die - to go in glory, straight to heaven. The other is to walk out the community gates while still alive.
It's the latter which is a true loss for the community, says Paul Valor, a young man who grew up in the isolated West Coast sect and whose arranged marriage was followed by a documentary team two years ago.
Now, that team has returned to shed new light on daily life in the reclusive community, who are known for shunning publicity.
Gloriavale: Life and Death aired on TV2 last night, and shows filmmaker Amanda Evans' return to the sect. Adams and her team were given unprecedented access to Gloriavale for her first documentary, A Life Apart, which followed Valor and Pearl Hope through their arranged marriage chosen by the leaders of the church..
Life and Death revisits Hope and Valor as they raise their first child and prepare to give birth to a second. It also follows the declining health and eventual death of Steady Standtrue, one of the community leadership which is responsible for deciding the jobs, marriages and rules of the community of around 530 people.
While Standtrue's health declines, Adams explores the community's celebration of death - which they see as the only way to reach heaven before Jesus returns to earth.
As Standtrue lies on his deathbed, a woman remarks that his wife, Rose, is "radiant with joy" as she waits his imminent departure to heaven.
Valor explains that a death in the community is a joyful occasion compared to those who leave while still alive.
But the documentary shows even as the community farewells Standtrue, much of its time is still occupied with new life - and with contraception forbidden, babies are arriving in abundance. Pearl Hope is preparing for the birth of her second child at the same time as Paul's mother, Purity prepares for her twelfth - and the two women end up giving birth within a week of each other.
Hope says motherhood is now her defining purpose in life. "My ambition is to be a godly mother and wife," she said, "and I just do that every day."
The film notes that Hope and Valor are statistically a typical kiwi family, but their lives are a surreal mix of mundane family life and the strangeness of life in the sect.
Obeying strict gender roles, they live lives of regimented routine and religious devotion.
On the upside, they live without poverty or material need, in a close, family-oriented, highly self-reliant community. Both say they are happy with their lives and place in the sect.
"I believe that the truth is here. When people leave here, they are leaving the truth behind," Valor said.
Gloriavale has faced criticism over the past year from members who have left Gloriavale, and say life there is not what it appears to be.
The commune has been under intense scrutiny following accusations of brain-washing, physical punishment and sexual abuse, including against girls as young as 12. In April, police urged current or former members to come forward and speak about their experiences, and set up a hotline for Gloriavale tips.
But Paul and Pearl Valor seem unperturbed by any controversy, and maintain that their way of life is the only one they would choose.
Valor says, "Lots of people have ambitions for things - cars and houses or holidays, but for us here, things aren't important. Our ambitions are for spiritual things , to serve the Lord every day, in every way I can. That all leads to my ultimate ambition - to go to heaven."
Gloriavale: Life and Death can be viewed on TV2 Ondemand.