Former Gloriavale residents consider its future

1 News, New Zealand/April 3, 2024

By Ryan Boswell

After years of allegations of forced labour, slavery, and sexual and physical abuse, the future of Gloriavale is being considered by its former residents.

The Gloriavale Leavers' Trust has released a discussion document, where it asks what needs to happen if the West Coast sect continues and what a suitable ending would look like.

Trust manager Liz Gregory said many leavers have contributed to the creation of the document, and have tried to cast a vision of a better future.

"In answering these questions, groups, and agencies will see that leavers still care about their families inside and that they want what's best for them.

"This document does not seek to establish whether reform or closure is a preferred path, but rather what leavers would like to see if either of those options play out," Gregory said.

What would a healthy Gloriavale look like?
The document said if Gloriavale was to continue it would require basic freedoms for its residents, suitable leadership for its activities, and repentance for past wrongdoing.

Religious, financial, family, health, mobility, education, and information freedoms are all listed as areas that need to be addressed according to the respondents, who said that it indicates they are not presently part of what it means to live at Gloriavale.

People should be allowed to marry who they want, earn and keep their own money, make their own healthcare decisions, and hold beliefs based on their own understanding and conscience of the Bible, the document said.

"The freedom to choose to be part of the church at Gloriavale or another Christian church or no church at all while still living at Gloriavale."

The document suggests that the leadership at Gloriavale should be reorganised into three separate groups to provide clarity of focus and a separation of powers to help ensure leadership consistently act in the best interest of the people.

It reads that church leadership to be "servant-hearted leaders who provide spiritual direction of the church at Gloriavale", and provide oversight of the teaching, worship, fellowship, and outreach of the church.

Civil leadership would attend to the needs of the town and would be responsible for ensuring that the facilities and environment are well run and looked after, the document said. Business units could be established and be part of a cooperative in which residents hold shares.

Leavers said in all cases leadership needs to be accountable, transparent, and elected by those they lead for a specified term.

They also want repentance for past wrongs, which "will mean more than an apology it requires specific actions", like the removal of the existing Gloriavale leadership, a reckoning for members guilty of criminal behaviour, and appropriate recompense for past mistreatment.

What if Gloriavale was ended?
Gloriavale leavers said that if the commune were to end, through whatever means, then they want residents to be given "maximum help and preparation for a new life", as well as recompense those who have already left for past wrongs.

The ending should be an orderly, phased, and gradual process that maximises the sale value of community assets, an external or statutory group appointed to oversee the process, and "no rump or remnant group of people allowed to remain on the site".

The document said the spiritual needs of Gloriavale's residents must be recognised and addressed in any resettlement, as 80% of leavers join a church.

"During the ending process, Gloriavale residents must be free to access and keep books and other materials for themselves based upon their interests and preference, and choose to be part of the church at Gloriavale or another church or no church at all.

"The cemetery at Gloriavale should however be preserved and protected out of respect for those who have passed and for the sake of their family and friends."

Gloriavale residents of all ages will need educational support for the transition to a life in the outside world, rather than just a life at the commune, the document said.

"Teaching staff from outside Gloriavale will likely be needed to provide the necessary expertise, and an external group like the New Zealand Association of Christian Schools should oversee school operations during the transition.

"All adults and older young people should receive financial literacy training covering the basics of budgeting, banking, taxation, and debt prior to exiting Gloriavale.

"Career planning advice should also be provided to people aged 16 or over to help establish future education and employment options."

Leavers believe all residents need physical, dental, and mental health checks, and a resettlement plan should be established for each family with help from agencies, groups, and churches.

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