The Press (Christchurch), 17th August 2002
A remote West Coast complex houses a growing sect with multimillion- dollarbusinesses. Even infrequent trips by some of the 300 members into Greymouth put$300,000 monthly into the town's stores. Welfare, benefits, and pensions areforeign concepts; community members support their own, apparently bankrolled byprofits from the businesses. The woman stands under the veranda, her handscupped in front and a faint smile fixed across her face. She has long hair, a white headscarf, and a long, navy-blue dress buttonedtightly to the neck.
She looks as serene as a nun and lives a cloistered life but this definitely isnot a convent. It is the first glimpse of the Gloriavale Christian Communityand Garden of Children, a town-size commune 70km inland from Greymouth. Further along the veranda, smiling acolytes with names such as Noah, Fervent,and Pilgrim greet the hundreds of visitors who have journeyed out on this longgravelled road on a mid-winter's night for a concert and meal as guests of thecommunity. By the end of the four-week concert season, this extraordinary, introvertedcommunity in the middle of nowhere will have hosted 3200 West Coasters, many ofthem just curious to get a look inside the commune walls.
It is not just the enigma of communal living that draws people, but also thesurprise that it has become one of the biggest players in the West Coasteconomy with four international businesses. Inside, the crowd is funnelled into a large auditorium, the Living Museum,which is decorated with finely crafted, half-scale models of a sailing ship andvintage aeroplane in celebration of modern achievements. Everyone is seated at tables facing the front, just like school, settled in forthe four-hour concert with a bottle of non-alcoholic home brew and apple cider. The music and the singing is faultless, the comedy skits funny, and the life-like props amazing. There is also a three-course meal served by Rapture,Serene, and Harmony.
The only visible sign of difference is the men's toilet, modestly equipped withcubicles instead of the openness of a urinal. So why does a tightly closed commune that regards the outside world as corruptopen its doors and purse so generously to well- wishers and sceptics alike? It is, community head and spiritual leader Hopeful Christian explains to thecrowd, a "love gift" to the West Coast community. To the secular world, that means public relations. Quietly but steadily the walls of Gloriavale have grown in 11 years,transforming a remote cow paddock above Lake Haupiri into a modern three-storeycomplex that stands like a temple on the bottom slopes of the Southern Alps.
Mirrored on either side are two three-storey dormitories - one of which isstill under construction - to house the fast-growing community of 315. Thereis a registered pre-school for 70 children, and primary and secondary schools,with a combined roll of more than 100. School life is normal, except that teachers have identified health, physicaleducation, and the arts as not fitting well with their beliefs. However, music, movement, and performing are key features of community life.From pre-school age, children are encouraged in music and by high school areall competent violin players. According to the Education Review Office, school programmes are organised inline with New Zealand curriculum standards and adapted to suit the community'sbeliefs.
For instance, science is taught in biblical context, and girls are encouragedin the kitchen to prepare for their future life in the community. Everyone from pre-school age to old age is dressed in the same modest uniformthat neatly keeps temptation and curiosity at bay. Theirs is essentially a small town compacted into three buildings, surroundedby the commercial enterprises that keep the men employed and the community fed. "I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,"proclaims the church letterhead.
Perhaps not, but the gates have been rattled at least. It was only seven yearsago that Hopeful Christian was jailed on three charges of indecent assault oncommunity members. He served just 11 months before being released on paroleback to Lake Haupiri. He is now 75 but remains in charge.
The troubles began in 1993, two years after the Haupiri sect was founded, whengirls and boys complained to the police that they had been sexually assaultedat the Cust Christian Community. The complainants were aged between 12 and 19at the time. A jury found Hopeful Christian guilty of 10 of the 11 charges and he wassentenced to six years. That was overturned by the Court of Appeal thefollowing year, and a new trial ordered.
He was retried on three charges in December 1995, and again found guilty. However, the charges, the drawn- out trials, and his eventual incarceration didnothing to shake the bonds of the Christian Community or the trust its membersstored in their father figure, Hopeful Christian.
The complainants were ostracised from their remaining family in the communityand left to flounder in the outside world. Others who have left voluntarily toget a taste of freedom have spoken of the difficulty of adjusting after alifetime of seclusion; some of the "fallen" later returned to the fold.
Discipline is tough. A teenage girl caught by her mother holding hands with aboy was marched in front of a men's disciplinary meeting that lasted 16 hours. An Australian by birth, Hopeful Christian (formerly Neville Cooper) has said hefound his faith after World War 2. In the late- 1960s he put that intopractice, drawing followers into a commune known as Springbank, on a 100haproperty near Cust, North Canterbury. They called themselves the Christian Community Church, but to outsiders theywere the Cooperites. A strong work ethic, self- sufficiency, and a preferenceto shut themselves off from the secular world were the tenets of this brand ofChristianity.
They might have been regarded as odd, but former Waimakariri District MayorTrevor Inch once praised the community as a "model of fastidiousness" and itsmembers a tremendous asset to the district. The surprise move to the West Coast came in 1991 as the community outgrew theCust property. The growth was not so surprising because members are encouraged, if notexpected, to raise large families. In that respect Hopeful Christian led byexample. He had 15 children in 1994, shortly after marrying his third wife, whowas 17 at the time.
Some new recruits have also come from the wider West Coast community. Membersare free to go, but when they do all contact is severed. Each contributes their worldly possessions to a community pool, and is providedfor when they leave. One member who left the Cust community with his wife andeight children in the 1980s walked away with a meagre $4000. The Gloriavale Christians are not to be confused with another conservativeChristian sect, the Exclusive Brethren, who arrived on the West Coast fromNelson about the same time as the Haupiri community. Exclusive Brethren, basedout of a windowless church in Greymouth, dress similarly and own some majorbusinesses in town.
While their faith does not acknowledge the wizardry of computers and Eftpos,the Haupiri Christians embrace it all in their daily life. However, they dohave some restrictive beliefs that appear incompatible with normal commerce. Interest, credit, and debt have no place here, yet members very successfullyrun one of the largest dairy farms on the West Coast with 1200 top-breed dairystock, farm 1400 deer, and own some major businesses. Total worth is probablyin excess of $10 million -- all ensconced on the 1687ha property. Ocean Harvest International Ltd exports fishmeal to China, Lakeview Moss Ltdhas markets worldwide, and Avkair Ltd has the only fixed-wing and helicoptermaintenance facility on the West Coast. Customers fly in from around the SouthIsland.
The community also runs a joint venture charter service with the Greymouth AeroClub. Each company is owned communally and directed by one of the community's seniormembers, Steady Standtrue. Welfare, benefits, and pensions are foreign concepts; community members supporttheir own, apparently bankrolled by profits from the businesses. The reality of the Gloriavale businesses is not insignificant -- between$300,000 and $350,000 is spent in Greymouth each month. "They have four international companies and so irrespective of their spiritualand moralistic aspects, economically they cannot be ignored," says GreyDistrict economic development officer Frank Ash.
The Christian sect's interaction with the West Coast community is carefullycontrolled, but after 11 years the infrequent trips to town are barely noticedthese days. "People might not agree with their doctrine, but they are now very muchaccepted as part of the community," says Ash.
The Press (Christchurch), 17th August 2002
Gloriavale is the successor to the Springbank Christian Community at Cust,which was regularly in the headlines in the 1980s for sex scandals. It hassince rebuilt to become one of the largest contributors to the West Coasteconomy, owning four export businesses.
The sect's founder and leader, 75-year-old Australian-born Hopeful Christian(formerly Neville Cooper), was sentenced to five years jail in 1995 after beingfound guilty on three charges of indecent assault on teenage members of theCust commune. He served 11 months.
From the New Truth & TV Extra Auckland 30th April 1999
A CONTROVERSIAL sect headed by a notorious paedophile is paying almost$100,000 - for its own highway to heaven.
The Christian Church Community is set to buy 1.8km of public road AND a bridgeleading to its headquarters at Haupiri, on the West Coast of the South Island,from Grey District Council. The commune says it has frequently been the target of vandals and thieves andthe purchase will heighten security and protect members from unwantedintruders.Group leader Hopeful Christian, aka Neville Cooper, was jailed for five yearsin 1994 on 10 charges of indecent sexual assault, including using a woodenpenis-shaped object on a 19-year-old woman.
Cooper, 71, is the spiritual leader of 300 devoted followers known as"Cooperites" living at the commune. His wife Ruth, 21, is 50 years his junior. Grey District Council expects opposition to the asset sale. But its CEO Paul Pretorius claims opponents do not understand the facts. "Some ratepayers think closure and sale of the road and bridge will deny themaccess to Haupiri River," he says.
"However, the public road is a dead end to another farm of the same landowner(the Christian community) and the road leading to the river is a private road. "Access to the river depends on the landowner granting approval." Pretorius says the cash windfall from the sale is much needed and will swellcouncil coffers. "It makes good economic sense," he says. An independent valuer claims the road is worth $13,500, and the bridge $80,000. Greymouth police say the close-knit group has been subjected to abusive crimeand vandalism for about eight years. The commune will take over responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of theroad and bridge once the sale is completed.
The Press (Christchurch), 28th November 1996
Religious leader Hopeful Christian left Paparua Prison along the stock routeyesterday to avoid news media after his release on parole.Christian, 69, formerly known as Neville Cooper, was sentenced to a five-yearjail term in December last year. The District Prison Board granted his releaseafter a parole hearing on Tuesday.
The three charges of indecent assault related to incidents at the CustChristian Community, which he headed, in 1985. He sexually assaulted a then 19-year-old woman with a wooden, penis-shaped object. Christian was sentenced to six years prison in 1994, but the Court of Appealquashed the sentences and his convictions and ordered a new trial. He was foundguilty at his second trial in December last year and resentenced.
Prison sources said yesterday that Christian was quiet in prison and did notmix with other inmates. He was released from Paparua Prison yesterday instead of the usual releasefacility at Addington Prison. Christchurch Prison's general manager, Tony Spencer, said he had wanted toavoid the news media.
From the Evening Post 7th May 1996
Religious leader Hopeful Christian has failed to have his five- year jailsentence for indecent assault reduced. The Court of Appeal in Wellington yesterday upheld the sentence, imposed lastDecember in the Christchurch District Court.
The three charges of indecent assault from January 1984 related to a then 19-year-old member of Christian's community who said she was penetrated with awooden object. Christian said she was given the object and encouraged to use iton herself as therapy.
Christian, 69, led a private religious group which had communities in NorthCanterbury and on the West Coast. He stood trial in 1994, was found guilty of10 charges and jailed for six years. He appealed and was granted a retrial last year, at which only the three mostserious indecent assault charges were prosecuted. On conviction he wassentenced to five years jail.
His lawyer Chris McVeigh said Christian originally appealed the conviction andsentence but the conviction appeal was abandoned. He said he could find no comparable cases in which a sentence as harsh as fiveyears jail was imposed. The maximum for the offence in 1984 was seven yearsjail. The term gave the appearance of being imposed under the new law allowingfor a 20-year maximum.
Delivering the Court of Appeal's judgment, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaumsaid the offences had been a gross invasion of the victim's body, that led toinjury. The sentence was near or at the top of the range available but notmanifestly excessive. The court rejected a submission that Christian got a substantially longersentence after the second trial than he had at the first trial, when four yearswas imposed for the indecent assault charges. Sir Thomas said the four years was calculated with a five-year starting point,and taking into account cumulative sentences imposed for other offences andChristian's age and health.
The Press (Christchurch), 14th October 2006
When Venkata Siva Rayavarapu deserted the West Coast commune where he lived forthree years, he felt a great weight lift from his shoulders. "I felt like Icame out of prison. I felt light," says the 22-year-old student from southernIndia. "I looked at the flowers on the side of the road. They were yellow and bright." Inside Gloriavale Christian Community, life was a regime dictated by leaderswho demanded obedience and hard toil on the 1700-hectare farm at Haupiri, 70kilometres inland from Greymouth.
Home for Rayavarapu is the poor Hanuman Junction, outside the southern city ofHyderabad. He happened to meet one of Gloriavale's leaders who was visitingIndia to help the needy and arrangements were made for Rayavarapu to come toNew Zealand to study. The deal was for him to study community life and agriculture at Gloriavale andthen return to help his own people in India. Gloriavale picked up his considerable travel, education, medical and living costs, as well as helping his family in India.
Rayavarapu and his father signed an agreement that he would live under thedirection of Gloriavale leaders and not leave or talk to outsiders withouttheir counsel and approval. Should he leave the tight-knit community, he would be on a flight back toIndia. He promised not to live anywhere else in New Zealand. Rayavarapu ended up breaching that agreement on all counts and battling theImmigration Service to stay in the country after a massive falling out with theGloriavale community.
He claims he was driven to breach his agreement because he felt pressured intomarrying a 17-year-old Mexican girl who he did not love. "They wanted me to marry someone that I would never think about. It feltstrange to me. "One day I would like to have children but I have my own thoughts on when thiswill be. I will marry when I want to." But Gloriavale says Rayavarapu was using its community as a backdoor to gaining New Zealand residency. "We want to help needy people overseas but will not be party to those who useour help as a stepping stone to stay in New Zealand," says a leader, FerventStedfast.
Rayavarapu's case offers a rare portal into the closed world of GloriavaleChristian Community and Garden of Children, overlooking the shores of remoteLake Haupiri. Outsiders remember them as the Cooperites, from their early days at Springbank,a property near Cust, North Canterbury. Their leader was, and still is, Hopeful Christian (formerly Neville Cooper),who is now 80 years old. His third wife, Ruth, is about 55 years his junior andthey have four children.
The community's troubles became very public in 1993, two years after theHaupiri sect was founded, when girls and boys complained to the police thatthey had been sexually assaulted at Cust. Hopeful Christian was tried by a jury, found guilty of 10 of the 11 charges andjailed for six years in 1994, only to have his sentence and convictionsoverturned by the Court of Appeal the next year.
He was retried on the three most serious indecent assault charges and sentencedto five years jail. Christian's crime was sexually assaulting a then 19-year-old woman with a wooden, penis-shaped object. Christian's own daughter, who does not want to be named, has heard stories likeRayavarapu's many times over. She is often tracked down by young men who haveleft the community and need help establishing a life on the outside.
The woman left the commune herself a few decades ago and well knows thepsychological pressures they face. "They (Gloriavale) would say that you've gotfree choice. But if you go and tell them that you're going to leave, thenyou'll get hauled into a men's meeting for hours, until you decide you'reperhaps going to stay.
"If you're going to go then they'll want you to go to Australia or somewhereway out of it so you can't cause any trouble." While 90 per cent of its practices are good, community life is marred by thetight controls on members, the lack of free will and the fear of eternaldamnation if members left, Christian's daughter says. "It's fear that holds everybody there. For years after leaving I'd wake up in acold sweat, thinking `I don't want to go to hell'."
Since moving to the coast in 1991, Gloriavale has grown to more than 400members and is a key contributor to the district's economy. More than 360,000kg of milk solids are sent to the Westland Dairy Company eachyear, according to a pamphlet Gloriavale has produced about its community. The 1200-strong herd also provides meat, milk, icecream, butter, cream, yoghurtand cheese. More than 1400 deer are raised for venison, trophy heads andGloriavale's own brand of deer-velvet products. They also rear ostriches.
Gloriavale owns Air West Coast, which runs weekday services from Greymouth andWestport to Wellington and charter flights. Avkair Ltd, a fixed-wing andhelicopter maintenance facility, has customers flying in from around the SouthIsland. Company documents show the businesses are communally owned by members withnames like Willing Disciple, Justice Faithful and Trust Helpful.
Sphagnum moss is exported to Japan and as liners for hanging baskets to theUnited States under the trade name Angel Moss. A team of Gloriavaletelemarketers rise early to service United States clients and agents. Another venture cooks and dries deer offal into a powder called venison meal,exported to the US and Europe as an ingredient in pet food. The tallowbyproduct is sold to Asia for soap-making. The women in their long, navy-blue dresses, buttoned tightly up the neck, andwhite headscarves are well accepted as they go about their business in theoutside world.
Trades are highly prized in the commune. In 15 years, members have built alarge community building, two accommodation blocks, two rotary dairies, farmsheds, an aircraft hangar, hydro-electricity station and processing factories.Some men learn a second trade, after mastering their first one.
The women's work is home making and rearing large families, sometimes as manyas 13 children. Birth control is considered as murderous as abortion. Women prepare about 7000 meals a week and wash 8000 laundry items. They bottlefruit, make butter and cheese, sew members' clothes and soft furnishings, andsupervise the pre-school. Gloriavale's school is accredited to teach skills in apparel, businessadministration, laundry,
Date of Birth
At large in Gloriavale, West Coast
Sentenced to five years in December 1995
Paroled November 1996
Additional Photos & Files
Associated Media Links http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2989160/The-family-14-fled-secretive-Christian-cult-promises-protect-followers-evils-outside-world-history-sexual-abuse-refuses-use-birth-control.html
Hopeful Christian AKA Neville Cooper Appeal Notes
OFFENCES / CONVICTIONS
|Event Date||Event||Court Location||Offence Type||Offence Date||Committed While||Sentence Imposed|
|06-05-1996||Appeal hearing Date is approx||Court of Appeal Wellington||Indecent assault||06-06-1994||5 Years, Imprisonment||▼|