The secretive Gloriavale religious commune has closed off the outside world as it buries its controversial leader Hopeful Christian today.

Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, led the community for over 40 years and passed away at the remote community on the West Coast of the South Island yesterday, aged 92, after suffering from prostate cancer.

The Australian-born evangelical preacher's health had been in decline for several months and had recently been hospitalised after a heart attack.

Two red vehicles were blocking the entrance to Gloriavale Christian Community at Haupiri today. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Two red vehicles were blocking the entrance to Gloriavale Christian Community at Haupiri today. Photo / Kurt Bayer

But his death has stunned the notoriously reclusive and isolated Christian community of Gloriavale, based at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth.

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Today,Christian was laid to rest at Gloriavale, which has its own chapel and graveyard.

Two red Peugeot cars blocked the main entrance to the community today.

Only members, contractors, workmen, and deliverymen came and went from the site.

One contractor leaving this afternoon believed the funeral was underway, with the place appearing shut down.

A daughter of Christian said the sect leader's death was not a time to place judgment.

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

"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.

Hopeful Christian's health had been in decline for several months. Photo / File
Hopeful Christian's health had been in decline for several months. Photo / File

"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.

"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".

Gloriavale, which currently has more than 500 members made up from around 90 families, was founded in 1969. Photo / TVNZ
Gloriavale, which currently has more than 500 members made up from around 90 families, was founded in 1969. Photo / TVNZ

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 Phil Cooper, 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.

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.

Prominent commune spokesman Fervent Stedfast and fellow senior member Howard Temple, the 'Overseeing Shepherd's Appointed Successor', are the favourites to become the new leader.

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

The Gloriavale Christian community at Haupiri, near Greymouth. Photo / Kurt Bayer
The Gloriavale Christian community at Haupiri, near Greymouth. Photo / Kurt Bayer

"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."

Gloriavale, which currently has more than 500 members made up from around 90 families, was founded in 1969.

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

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

In 1995, 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.

Several members have left in recent years amid allegations of enforced marriage, sexual and physical abuse and forced separation of families.