Gloriavale now doomed to fail
The trouble with utopias is they are run by human beings. As a result they are doomed to failure. The big question after the death of Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian this week is not whether the community will fail, but when.
Some indications suggest it will be business as usual for the Christian sect that seems to hold an endless fascination for the rest of country.
To begin with, the community seems to have a succession plan. Its annual return (it is a registered charitable trust) for the year ending July, 2017 shows the appointed successor is Howard Temple who first became an officer of the trust 27 years ago. He apparently becomes the ‘‘overseeing shepherd’’. Fervent Stedfast is head of the trust board suggesting he will remain as the chief executive and Temple will take over as the spiritual head.
Hopeful Christian stepped down from any official post in 2010 although his influence obviously continued until close to his death.
But clearly his charisma hasn’t been the community’s only sustenance. For instance, there is no reason to think Gloriavale will go the same way as the Camp David cult based in Waipara. Its founder Douglas Metcalf died in 1989 and by 1995 the cult, run by Metcalf’s son-inlaw, had imploded.
Another indication of Gloriavale’s basic stability is its financial soundness.
A community like Gloriavale is only sustainable if it has a positive cash flow. It pulled in about $17.2 million in the year to July, 2017 and spent about $15m. In the final result it posted a surplus of $1.2m.
It owns 13 companies that operate businesses in farming, honey, building and midwifery and they seem mostly to be successful.
A company called Ocean Harvest International has tax losses of $4.4m, but this is not necessarily a sign the company is in strife.
The trust got $1.65m in donations from its members,
$2.1m in early childhood education grants and another
$224,000 in grants from the Ministry of Education. According to the accounts, without the taxpayer grants, Gloriavale would be running at a loss.
The other factor that counts in Gloriavale’s favour is its longevity. Cults generally thrive for a while and then burn up, but Gloriavale in various guises has been going for nearly 50 years.
Like a good business it has a clear and articulated vision. It lives by its declaration of faith ‘‘What We Believe’’ and its members own everything ‘‘in common’’. Its essential purpose is to provide for its Christian family groups and their education in Christian beliefs.
What could go wrong? Without inside knowledge we can only speculate, but Gloriavale has a number of potentially divisive and undermining problems.
It can be assumed the five member trustee board – Mark Christian, Samuel Valor, Enoch Upright, Fervent Stedfast, Howard Temple – do not necessarily see all things the same way.
For instance the community has to decide how it deals with people who want to leave the community. Many will have worked there for years with all their earnings going back to the community. What are they entitled to when they leave?
The leadership will have to decide how much the community can accommodate the outside world. An investigation by Charities Services starting in 2015 required the community to make a number of changes to how it was run.
One factor that could severely undermine the community is a symptom of its success. Its members marry young and do not exercise birth control so families are large. Hopeful Christian is thought to have 19 children. Families with eight to 10 children are not uncommon.
These children have to be supported and educated. If they are to remain in the community to ensure its continuation they need to be provided with job training and employment. The community has shown it can run good businesses, but how big can it get on the West Coast?
With a large increase in its population, dissidents will spring up as they already have. Not all of them will leave. Some will try to drive change from within causing strife and disruption.
Hopeful Christian’s death won’t change the community much in the short term. If his legacy is sticking rigidly to his principles and methods of operation, then the community is probably destined for implosion sooner rather than later. But who knows? Maybe Gloriavale can keep its dream alive by changing and adapting.
Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian died earlier this week.