How Gloriavale's leadership structure works

Gloriavale's leadership structure is very male-dominated.
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Gloriavale's leadership structure is very male-dominated.

There is probably no religious group New Zealanders have seen more of over the last decade than Gloriavale.

The West Coast Christian community has been featured in a series of documentaries and many news reports.

The allegations made against the community by former members have been well covered - the forced marriages, the sexual and physical abuse, the shunning of anyone who leaves, and the complete financial domination of all members.

But through it all only a few actual faces from the 550 to 600 member group have really emerged. In a TVNZ doco we see a lot of young newlyweds Paul Valor and Pearl Hope. In the exposes we hear a lot about the leader Hopeful Christian, who was convicted of sexual abuse in the 90s.

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Thanks to a Government investigation into the community released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act we can divine a clearer picture of how leadership in the group works.

HOW THE LEADERSHIP STRUCTURE WORKS

The 55 families in Gloriavale - each with an average of eight children - live in four blocks of communal hostel accommodation. Each floor of these hostels has a "shepherd" and "servant" leader, who all together make up the leadership council of 16, which oversees the business operations, the various private schools, and the decisions over who should marry whom. They are all men.

This council of men say they lead the entire community by consensus - as in, all of them agree on everything by the end of each meeting.

It is alleged by former members that when members of the community break the strict rules or attempt to leave they are forced into disciplinary sessions with this council, where the leadership shout insults at them for hours. Several women allege they were called "sluts" and "whores" for wanting to leave the community.

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This group of 16 men is subservient to a group of three senior shepherds, who run the tax-free Gloriavale charitable trust.

These three men are the the trustees of the trust, which runs the lucrative business operations of the group. They are also signatories to the "shared account" of money handed over by members - which is all of it, any personal income from jobs or businesses is expected to be handed over by Gloriavale members. Most of the "personal" accounts of individual members can also be accessed by the trustees, as they were set up by them. (The community told the investigators they were shifting their policy so individuals could sign up for accounts by themselves).

Necessities like food, housing, and medical equipment are provided by the community. They budget for approximately $39 per person per week.


Hopeful Christian, also known as Neville Cooper, who leads the Gloriavale community on the West Coast.

ON TOP OF THEM ALL - HOPEFUL CHRISTIAN

Above the three trustees or senior shepherds is Hopeful Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, the 76-year-old founder and spiritual leader of the group. Christian, as is well documented outside of the community but not within it, was convicted of sexual assault in 1995 based on the testimony of a woman and her son who fled the compound. He served a year in jail, and has at least 19 children to three different wives.

Christian retired from the board of trustees in 2010 but is still the "overseeing shepherd". This gives him the power to appoint himself back onto the board and to appoint new members.

While he does not appear to be heavily involved in the day-to-day business operations of the community, he is still firmly the leader of the group, giving sermons and setting the overall direction of the community.


Fervent Stedfast, right, speaks to Stuff Circuit's Paula Penfold.

THE SENIOR SHEPHERDS - FERVENT STEDFAST

Fervent Stedfast is the head of the trust board and the group's accountant. He has also acted a media spokesman for the group on several occasions. He is essentially Hope Christian's second in command.

Stedfast told Rural Delivery that he joined the then-Springbank community in 1970 as a 23-year-old. He had "embarked on a search for truth" which led him to the community. Further research establishes his original name was Alistaire Barret, and that his father was an Anglican priest.

Stedfast wrote the book What We Believe about the community in 1989, which codifies the group's strict Christian beliefs. 

At this time he was also headmaster of the school, as detailed in this 1987 Christian Living article.

THE SENIOR SHEPHERDS - ENOCH UPRIGHT

Much less is known about Enoch Upright, another of the three senior shepherds. A 2001 letter from a visiting supporter described him as "an Australian immigrant, born in Greece, whose wife had left him." It also makes clear that at that point he was a servant, not a shepherd.

Stedfast and Upright would have both changed their names within the community, as is the group's custom now.

THE SENIOR SHEPHERDS - HOWARD TEMPLE

The third senior shepherd Howard Temple was another early convert, changing his name from "Smitherman".

According to that same 2001 letter Temple was an American mechanical engineer who served in the navy. He visited New Zealand during his service, prompting a move here and a marriage to a New Zealander. 

He joined the church when it was in Rangiora, but his wife Joy "took much longer in deciding to become a member". She did eventually join, and become the head of the wider school system. As of 2001 they had six children in the community.

Temple is or was recently the principal of Glorivale's "Community Garden of Children" - one of three early childhood centres within the community.

Temple has also been interviewed by television news crews from time to time, but never about himself.

 - Stuff

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