by Chris Tobin
People who have left the secretive Christian community Gloriavale shed tears of gratitude when they learned of a $10,000 grant being given to a trust to support them.
Liz Gregory, support worker and manager of Gloriavale Leavers Support Trust, said the money received from the Community Trust of Mid & South Canterbury would be used to reduce “road blocks” hindering faster integration into the South Canterbury community.
“It’s desperately needed. Many kind people donate practical goods such as food, clothing and furniture but there are times when we need to spend money on a variety of other needs, for example, the cost of getting driver licences, IDs and school set-up costs for the children.”
Mrs Gregory and her husband, Graham Gregory, began helping people leaving the small enclosed Christian community of 600 people on the West Coast six years ago when a family arrived in Timaru and came to their church.
Since then, more than 130 people have left Gloriavale. Just over half this number have made their way to Timaru and South Canterbury because they knew good support was available here.
Church members have dipped into their own pockets to help and members of the public gave donations.
“There’s been a team of people working for a long time but we feel here in South Canterbury it was becoming important to find an extra funding stream.”
To make this happen the trust was established earlier this year comprising the Gregorys, Bronwyn and Rene Kempf, Hannah and Matt Linton and former Gloriavale residents James and Alan Harrison.
“We’ll be launching a pledge campaign soon for 100 people to provide $10 a week to ensure we have regular cash coming in to support the trust.”
The trust will be formally launched in Timaru and Christchurch next month.
Mrs Gregory said genuine people lived at Gloriavale “who wanted to serve God” but the people there had also been taught incorrect things.
“They are not teaching the full truth and people are held there by fear and control.
“There are definitely un-Christian things happening there. People come out needing love and care.”
She said leavers found the first year could be quite difficult and traumatic.
“They quickly pick up the things they’re taught but there are a considerable number of new experiences for them to learn.
“It can be quite overwhelming to start a new life from scratch.”
Coming out into wider society from “thought-control groups” could take the average person three to eight years to adjust, Mrs Gregory said.
“There’s a whole new world view and we feel privileged to be helping in some small way.
“The leavers have pressing practical and physical needs but there are also a lot of emotional needs.”
Some of those leaving Gloriavale chose to “put away” their Christian beliefs, Mrs Gregory said, while most believed they saw the hand of God at work more clearly after coming out.
“They become quickly aware they weren’t shown community love that you would hope for growing up among people claiming to be a Christian community, and they quickly realise they weren’t told the truth about things.”
Claims were made at Gloriavale that those leaving were going to hell and you had to stay in the community if you wanted to go to heaven. The world outside Gloriavale was denounced as being wicked and evil.
Government agency Charities Services investigated Gloriavale several years ago and made recommendations.
Mrs Gregory said recent leavers were unaware of changes being made at Gloriavale as a result of that investigation and were surprised that Gloriavale had been allowed to continue as a registered charity.
But it was not all bad at Gloriavale.
“We’re very careful when we work with the leavers not to destroy their entire life at Gloriavale.
“We don’t tell them what we think is wrong with Gloriavale. We hope they see it themselves as they go on a self-revelatory journey.
“In Gloriavale they don’t have worries about things such as bills, or having to go shopping for groceries but it’s a negative when you are not making decisions.”
Leavers were skilled workers and managed to find work in farming and trades, she said.
This year, 11 families or individuals had left Gloriavale.
“Most of them didn’t come to South Canterbury. They’re spread between South Canterbury, Canterbury and Greymouth but the trust wants to work with the leavers wherever they settle.
“Our aims are to extend a hand to anyone who does leave and giving confidence to people in Gloriavale, that they can leave and someone will help them, especially in those first three to five weeks when everything has to be organised – bank accounts, a home, schools.