Members of the Gloriavale religious sect who buried their controversial leader and convicted sex offender Neville Cooper, also known as Hopeful Christian, yesterday are experiencing mixed emotions today as life goes on at the reclusive commune.
Cooper, who led the community for over 40 years, died at remote Gloriavale Christian community, based at Haupiri, inland from Greymouth on the West Coast, on Tuesday, after suffering from prostate cancer. He was 91.
The Australian-born evangelical preacher's health had been in decline for several months and he had recently been hospitalised after a heart attack.
He was buried in private yesterday on the commune, which has its own chapel and graveyard.
Gloriavale members yesterday blocked the entrances to the sprawling site and kept the public and media out, but it was back to usual business today.
Tractors moved across the lush green fields, bikes leaned against farm sheds, and puffs of smoke came from work buildings. Children and young people were seen cleaning and tidying.
Fervant Stedfast, a prominent commune spokesman and senior leader who along with Howard Temple, the "Overseeing Shepherd's Appointed Successor", is a favourite to become the new leader, was emotional when speaking to the Herald today.
"Our leader has died, and gone… but we're not in grief," he said.
"There is great sorrow because someone has gone… he's been here since 1969, he's always been here. He was the foundation in many ways – Jesus Christ was the foundation – but here on earth, he was the one who God worked through. So it's hard to talk without getting tight in the throat.
"But we know he's in heaven and there's great joy that he's having no suffering. He was nearly 92… his work is over and it's time for him to depart.
"Things are in order, things are going well. There's a strength here so we are rejoicing really, even though we break into a little tear when we are talking."
A daughter of Christian has said the sect leader's death is not a time to place judgment.
"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," said the daughter who asked not to be named.
"We grieve that the relationship now has no chance of mending.
"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."
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.
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.