Hopeful Christian's death prompts ‘battle for control’ of Gloriavale

The AM Show 16/05/2018

Religious community Gloriavale needs a new leader following the death of its founder, Hopeful Christian.

Just one day after the 92-year-old's death, two prominent shepherds are already going head-to-head for the top spot, Patrick Gower told The AM Show.

There can only be one 'Overseeing Shepherd'.

Fervent Stedfast, 72, is effectively second in command to Hopeful Christian. He's in charge of the day-to-day running of the trust as a general manager, treasurer and accountant.

"Fervent Steadfast, the current second-in-charge, effectively runs Gloriavale. [He's] quite an elderly man as well as one of the shepherds there. He's the person that you deal with. He wants control.

Fervent Steadfast and Howard Temple. Photos: TVNZ.

"But he is in a battle with another shepherd, my sources tell me, Howard Temple. He is the overseeing shepherd designate. He is the person that everyone believes was meant to take over. He is the person Hopeful Christian said would take over," said Gower.

Howard Temple, 75, is Gloriavale's overseeing shepherd designate. Those who have left the sect say Hopeful Christian had given his official blessing for Howard Temple to take over, although they say this never felt certain.

Gower says the question is "not only whether they can control Gloriavale as a religious organisation".

"It's got a $40 million asset base. There's a battle for control of that as well."

The West Coast sect has 550 members spread across 90 families. Around 75 people have left the cult in the last five years.

Gower says there's a "lack of charisma" between the two potential leaders.

"That's what my sources tell me... do these two people have the ability to tell people what to do?

Religious expert Peter Lineham says significant change could be on the way.

"Gloriavale is financially very, very stable and solid from what I can make out. But how religious it remains is always one of those interesting questions.

Photo: Gloriavale.org.nz

"They're going to have to work out which way they're going to go. Because the fundamental question is will they open up more to the world or will they become even more exclusive?"

Mr Lineham says he met Christian when he set up the West Coast community.

"In a funny old fashioned way, he remained a very ardent preacher. His death now marks the end of a very strange career indeed."

Christian's death was confirmed to Newshub by his grandson on Tuesday. The founder, who changed his name from Neville Cooper decades ago, was a convicted sex offender.

He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1995, after being found guilty of three charges of indecently assaulting Yvette Olsen at the Springbank Christian Community, an earlier incarnation of Gloriavale close to Christchurch.

The grandson, who did not want to be named and lives outside the community, said he "had a lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories" of his grandfather.

"I won't go to the funeral, and neither will a lot of his other grandchildren."

Watch the full interview with Patrick Gower above. 

The AM Show with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson, weekdays 6-9am on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone..