19 May 2021

Gloriavale's leaders should be removed and replaced, former members say

12:37 pm on 19 May 2021

Former Gloriavale members want the church's leadership removed and the Public Trust appointed in its place.

John Ready

Former Gloriavale member John Ready, along with other unnamed plaintiffs, is taking a civil suit against Gloriavale. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

John Ready and other unnamed plaintiffs are taking a civil suit against The Christian Church Community Trust, commonly known as Gloriavale, as well as trustees and shareholders associated with the community.

Gloriavale was founded in the late 1960s in Canterbury by Neville Cooper.

Cooper, who was known as Hopeful Christian, would later be convicted of sexual abuse.

The community relocated to the West Coast in the 1990s, where it still operates today with hundreds of followers.

The High Court has recently allowed the allegations of Ready to be published for the first time.

The 11-page statement of claim was heavily redacted, but showed the plaintiffs sought to be made beneficiaries of the Christian Church Community Trust and to have the current trustees removed.

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Gloriavale's members forego wealth and income, and in return were housed and fed by the community.

The trust's assets were redacted from the claim, but in the last financial year its income totalled $21.3 million.

If the civil case was successful the Public Trust would oversee The Christian Church Community Trust and have the right to appoint directors to companies owned or controlled by the trust.

Anyone could apply to join Gloriavale, but must complete an application titled "Declaration of Commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church and Community at Gloriavale", Ready's statement of claim said.

"I ask to be accepted to live at Gloriavale as a member of this Church and Community, having all things common with my brothers and sisters in Christ and calling nothing my own. I understand that to live at Gloriavale, an adult must support and abide by all of this Declaration of Commitment, and I will willingly do so myself," the application stated.

"Any money or assets which I ever give or help to acquire for Christian Partners, The Christian Church Community Trust or any other entity within the Christian Community, are to be administered without fetter by our overseeing shepherd and the other shepherds, and held in common for the benefit of all its members or given to others in need. I will never claim anything back for myself, my relatives, or anyone else," it added.

Applicants were then provided a document acknowledging their understanding of their commitment.

The plaintiffs claimed the declaration constituted a "Commitment Trust" providing for all members of Gloriavale.

That commitment trust should, among other things, provide appropriate and dignified accommodation; education which fully developed individuals; a safe and secure environment where members had liberty and security; and safe work, which was remunerated fairly with adequate rest and leisure, the claim said.

The plaintiffs laid out 29 circumstances in which they alleged trustees breached the terms of the trust, though all were redacted.

"The foregoing breaches by the trustees are ongoing and serious such that the defendant trustees should be removed and replaced," the claim said.

In response, a position statement on behalf of the trust, its trustees and the other defendants, said the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the suit and any issues raised concerned matters of religious belief, doctrine or practice, or matters of family or social arrangements, which the court could not consider unless they were unlawful.

"These areas are matters of belief, or private arrangements within families which are not justiciable. The Court cannot rule on questions of belief or doctrine, or on domestic or social arrangements," the position statement said.

Additionally, the defendants denied a "commitment trust" existed.

"When members formally join the community, they sign a document setting out their agreement to adhere to the beliefs of the community," the statement said.

"As a religious community it is important that those who join the community understand, acknowledge and live by the core beliefs of those that live there. A core belief of the community is that all property, assets and money will be used collectively for the benefit of all those within the community. This is acknowledged in the document that is signed, which also includes an acknowledgement that nothing can be claimed by any particular person from the assets of the community.

"Independent legal advice is provided to those who sign this document. It is a personal, heartfelt, spiritual statement of faith to the community made by those who wish to formally join. It does not create a trust."

The plaintiffs were no longer active members of the community.

"Mr John Ready and his family have left the community... They do not have the legal standing to seek changes to trustees or to community leaders."

The defendants claimed the resources provided to members was extensive and included food; accommodation; secondary and tertiary education; recreational facilities; electronic devices, internet access and vehicles; education and childcare facilities; health care access including dental and specialist care; and full-time care for those needing support.

"As with any religious community, those who live at Gloriavale who do not wish to adhere to the core tenets of belief of that community are free to leave. Support is given to those who leave. For those that have family members who choose to remain, those family members will continue to be welcomed and supported as valued members of the community," the statement said.

"The claim alleges that the defendants have breached duties that they are said to owe. The defendants deny these breaches. They are committed to ensuring Gloriavale is a safe and stable religious community for those who choose to live within it."

The Gloriavale community has come under increasing scrutiny after growing numbers of former members raised concerns about cult-like conditions and abuse of members.

Police and Oranga Tamariki have conducted investigations at the community and several cases of alleged sexual abuse are before the criminal courts at present.

The civil case is ongoing in the High Court.

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