Gloriavale's founder Hopeful Christian groomed a tightly held group of elders who will continue to lead the secretive West Coast Christian community by his rules, an expert believes.

Massey University professor of history Peter Lineham said it was his belief a group of about six elders would continue to run Gloriavale as they had been doing for the past two years.

But he warned the religious sect could become even more reclusive under the new leadership.

Lineham first encountered Hopeful Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, in the early 1960s when he was at high school and spoke about setting up a separate religious community. Lineham has kept a close interest in Christian's endeavours since then.


"The impression I've had for the last couple of years is that the community was preparing for his departure and that there was a kind of strong joint eldership that was operating in the community and that things were simply referred to him as a kind of back-up as the founder of the community."

While Christian's "intense personality and opinions" may have frightened any leadership if they had wished to take the community in a different direction, Lineham did not believe the elders who had been part of Gloriavale for more than 30 years would have any desire to change it.

"He gathered a very very tight group of leaders who have stayed, and those people are the eldership now. They themselves are in their 60s I would think and they are a very tight group."

"I think he will be held in reverence for a long long time as the community founder. He already has a special place in their trust document as the founder and I think they will keep it at that."

Lineman said some of the more obvious members with the smarts to take up a sole leadership position had left the community, leaving "not a particularly imaginative group of people" at the helm.

Despite the optimistic part of Lineham hoping the community might become more open, he said it could also become even more closed.

"He's trained up a bunch of leaders who are incredibly faithful to him and sometimes second generations are worse than first generations. It might become more exclusive."

Commenting on Christian's own sexual offending, Lineham said only those who lived at Gloriavale really knew what happened.


"None of us are there, none of us know how it works."