Mixed emotions at leader’s death
Scientists predict impact of major Alpine Fault quake Daughter of Gloriavale religious sect’s Neville Cooper says now is not an appropriate time to judge him
Members of the Gloriavale religious sect are experiencing mixed emotions after the funeral of their controversial leader Neville Cooper. Cooper, who led the community for over 40 years, died at the West Coast Christian community on Tuesday. The convicted sex offender, who had prostate cancer, was 91.
The Australian-born evangelical preacher’s health had been in decline for months and he had recently been hospitalised after a heart attack.
He was buried in private at the Haupiri commune inland from Greymouth on Wednesday. The community has its own chapel and graveyard.
Gloriavale members blocked entrances during the funeral service and kept the public and media out, but it was back to normal yesterday. Tractors moved over lush fields, puffs of smoke came from work buildings and children and young people cleaned and tidied.
Fervant Stedfast, a commune spokesman and senior leader who along with Howard Temple, the “Overseeing Shepherd’s Appointed Successor”, is a favourite to become leader, was emotional when speaking to the yesterday.
“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 Neville Cooper said his death was not a time to judge.
“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.”
HFor video with this story see nzherald.co.nz
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 was grateful.
“He now stands before his maker. It is no longer our place to judge.”
A source told the Cooper nearly died from a heart attack after being admitted to Grey Base Hospital in February, but hung on for several months.
His son, Phil Cooper, who had not been in contact with the sect in over 20 years, said he had yet to process the news.
Neville Cooper had 16 children from his first marriage to Gloria. Four remain in Gloriavale, two have died and 10 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 Cooper.
A crew does seismic testing in the Southern Alps (above). On average, earthquakes of magnitude 7.5 or larger hit along the Alpine Fault every 300 years.
Above: Neville Cooper. Right: Entrances were blocked on the day Cooper was buried.