The long-running tug-of-war over Camp David, the former headquarters of the Full Gospel Mission Fellowship near Waipara, could be drawing to a close.
A date has been set for a settlement conference in the High Court at Christchurch in which parties will lay claim to a share of the spoils of the 48ha property in the heart of Waipara's wine-growing area.
If the November 29 conference fails to resolve issues between followers of the late Douglas Metcalf who have left the camp and those still living or working within the fort-like structure, the matter could go forward to a formal High Court defended hearing.
Maria Squires, who with about 80 former members petitioned the trustees of the Full Gospel Mission Fellowship Trust in 2002 to have the property sold, said yesterday the development would at last give former members a forum to formally stake their claim.
The petitioners thought their fight had ended when the fate of Camp David was put in the hands of the High Court, which in February 2004 appointed Trustees Executors Ltd as the trust's sole trustees.
But after making little progress, Trustees Executors Ltd gave notice to potential claimants that it had applied to the High Court to determine whether anyone was entitled to receive property from the trust.
The court then appointed two lawyers, one to represent the former members who had left the property and one for about 20 people still living or working within Camp David who believe the property should not be sold.
The settlement conference comes three years after the former members petitioned the Full Gospel Mission Fellowship Trust to sell so they could bring closure to a period of their lives that left many troubled.
The group said that although they had left the camp they still held a stake in the property to which they had contributed all the cash they had earned, some for more than 20 years.
The group feared a new religious sect was rising from the ruins left after revelations in 1995 that Metcalf, who died in 1989, was an adulterer.
The tug-of-war has come at a cost, with a 180ha property at Murchison already sold to help fund the battle.
The religious cult was set up in the 1970s. In its heyday it had several hundred followers, many of whom camped or were housed on the site.