A daughter of Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian has said the sect leader's death is not a time to place judgment.

Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, died yesterday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was in his 90s.

He founded the secluded religious community on the West Coast in 1969, leading it for more than 40 years.

Speaking to the Herald, the daughter who requested not to be named, said she was taking space to grieve the loss of her father.

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"We grieve what might have been. We reflect on a time when we loved, the longing for things to change, and the feeling of melancholy that things were not different.

"We grieve that the relationship now has no chance of mending," she said.

"Death closes the door on the unspoken hope of what might have been restored.

"Words are left unsaid. Feelings are left open and bare. Dreams for reconciliation remain only that – a dream.

"We grieve the loss of a part of our heritage and even though the relationship was broken, the passing involves someone who is a part of our lineage."

The daughter fled Gloriavale nine years ago, along with her partner and children, but she said her father gave her life and a heritage for which she is grateful.

Hopeful Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, passed away yesterday afternoon after a battle with prostate cancer. Photo / File
Hopeful Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, passed away yesterday afternoon after a battle with prostate cancer. Photo / File

"He now stands before his maker. It is no longer our place to judge.

"Everybody is shaped by their journey and it is up to us to choose what we make of it and who we become."

She finished by saying, "I honour my Dad today".

A source told the Herald Christian nearly died from a heart attack after being admitted to Grey Base Hospital in February, but hung on for several more months.

Christian's son, who had not been in contact with the sect in over 20 years, said he had heard about the news and was yet to process it.

Christian had 16 children from his first marriage to Gloria. Four of those children remain in Gloriavale, two have died and 10 have fled the community.

The Herald contacted Gloriavale Christian Community but they declined to comment.

Christian leaves behind a trail of controversy and questions over the future of the sect.

The secretive religious community was founded in 1969, and now has around 550 members. Photo / File
The secretive religious community was founded in 1969, and now has around 550 members. Photo / File

Before his retirement from the Gloriavale board of trustees in 2010, Christian was described as being a "charismatic and controlling" leader.

His standing within Gloriavale was smeared when he was charged with sexual assault and served 11 months in prison on sexual abuse charges in 1995.

In 2015 Yvette Olsen said Christian sexually assaulted her on three occasions when she was 19. She called him a man of "unbridled lust", "lies" and "absolute power", and a "dirty old man".

A book released last year by Christian's granddaughter Lilia Tarawa explained that even when Christian was found guilty of sexual assault, he was held in high regard and gave religious instruction from his prison cell.

A former member of Gloriavale said most of the families living in the secretive community were unaware of their leader's sex abuse conviction and believe he was jailed for preaching the gospel.

In the book Tarawa also claimed arranged marriages were decided by Christian, who also believed girls were ready for marriage, and sex, as soon as they began their menstrual cycle.

Her grandfather, Tarawa said, "would have happily married off children of 10 or 12 years" of age if the law had permitted it.

Despite negative stories surrounding the sect, Gloriavale has also been lauded for its economic and social success.

Christian began the Gloriavale community in Rangiora and it moved to Haupiri Valley, on the West Coast, in 1991. Photo / File
Christian began the Gloriavale community in Rangiora and it moved to Haupiri Valley, on the West Coast, in 1991. Photo / File

The large community and its 500 members have made an appreciable difference to the West Coast.

Christian drew on the collective labours of the members to build a community that was a great business success.

The community's income comes from dairy farming, deer farming and the manufacture of meat meal.

Massey University professor Peter Lineham, a historian focusing on religion and society, said a tight-knit group of elders would continue to run Gloriavale along the rules set up by Christian following his death.

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

"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," Lineham said.

"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."