Leader’s daughter says family of 14 will have difficulty adjusting to modern life

The daughter of Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper, who walked out of the commune after 41 years, says the latest family to leave face a hard road to reintegrate into society.

James and Hope Ben Canaan and their 12 children left the religious commune at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth on the West Coast, at the weekend after saying they were living in a "false system".

They are setting up a new life in Timaru and are being supported by the Marchwiel Reformed Baptist Church and wider community who have donated clothes, furniture, household goods, books and toys.

Offers of jobs have been made for James, an experienced dairy farmer.


Mr Ben Canaan's aunt, Miracle, was born into the Cooperites community.

In 1995, her father Neville Cooper, also known as Hopeful Christian, spent 11 months in prison on sexual abuse charges after being convicted on the testimony of his son Phil and some young women who had fled the compound.

Phil Cooper has since written a book on his experiences with the sect.

Miracle and her 10 children left Gloriavale in 2010 and found living on the outside a real struggle.

"I'd never known any other life," said Miracle, who lives in Canterbury, and did not wish to reveal her surname or exact location.

Her nephew James and his family will now be in "survival" mode, she said.

4 Jun, 2012 12:15pm
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"The whole of society is different to how we were inside the community," said Miracle. "It's like you're a small child learning life from scratch."

The biggest challenge is starting out afresh with no assets, she believes.

Banks are reluctant to give loans, and matters such as tenancy agreements and home insurance are new concepts.

She hasn't returned to Gloriavale since her departure and doesn't believe she'll ever be welcome back.

"Not unless you're willing to go back and make your life back there," said Miracle, 48.

After the move, away from the only friends and family she had ever known, she felt "cut off, dejected and really lonely".

But she is pleased she left.

"I did it for my children, and I feel I made the right decision because we are all together as a family."

Miracle was confident that the Ben Canaans would make a success of the move.

"They are good people. It will be hard for them, but we will be there to help and support them."

The reclusive Gloriavale Christian community, which currently has more than 500 members, was founded in 1969.

It relocated from its original North Canterbury site to Haupiri in 1991.

Gloriavale spokesman, brother Fervent Stedfast, said it was the Ben Canaans' choice to leave.

"No one is here against their will. We only want people who want to be here."