Spotlight on Education

Spotlight on Education

Authored by Liz Gregory.
These has been a bit of noise on the airwaves since the Employment Court Ruling last week relating to Education in Gloriavale. The leavers’ lawyer, Brian Henry, has done a number of interviews since the ruling, and in each case he has shone a spotlight on the school and the Government Agencies that have allowed this school to deliberately limit the education of it’s members, made the girls leave at 15, and then exploit them in the workplace.

So I have trawled through Judge Christina Inglis’ judgment and pulled out the quotes that related to work and education and the way the community operates. As expected, this exercise has been illuminating – and it should be a wake-up call for the Ministry of Education and ERO (who are the group that assess whether schools are meeting the registration criteria). Click here to read about ERO visiting Gloriavale this week (unrelated to the court ruling, believe it or not).

Back to the court judgment.

The first part lists the points I want to make. The Second part lists all the amazing quotes in the judgement to back up what I’ve written:


This judgment is useful and according to the evidence given in court, it can fairly be applied to other areas in Gloriavale – including the sphere of Education:

  • Overseeing Shepherd is the boss and has full responsibility for everything that happens in the “Church”. The Church is a synonym for Community or Gloriavale. It’s an all-in life. This includes education.
  • Obedience to the Overseeing Shepherd is required – including his views on schooling and what kinds are allowed into the community (Te Kura, Home-schooling etc)
  • Members were surprised to hear of the contents of Hopeful Christian’s convictions during this hearing. The leaders had deliberately withheld this information from the community for decades. He was allowed to go back and be the leader (and controlling mind of the school) until his death in 2018.
  • The Plaintiffs left school at 15 to work full-time.
  • They had no choice about when they left school and what work they would do
  • The girls did work that was unrelenting, grinding, hard and physically and psychologically demanding. This work was being done when they were also supposed to be learning in school. How exhausting.
  • The impact has left deep scars. This has affected the girls’ ability to continue with their education after leaving Gloriavale.
  • Gloriavale’s rules are strictly enforced – including their practical life and their educational life. There is no distinction.
  • Members remained in the community due to a fear of damnation (preached regularly by school teachers)
  • Education was limited to those roles which the girls would be allocated to – namely cooking, cleaning and laundry.
  • Education was deliberately limited so that children were not equipped for the outside world, in order to keep them in the Community.
  • Hierarchy of the Community was top-down – Overseeing Shepherd, through the Shepherds and Servants. Please note there was no suggestion that there were sub-structures within Gloriavale that operated any differently (ie the school or businesses or Charitable Trust etc).
  • What we Believe” is Gloriavale’s founding document, and the Judge believed that what is written lined up with the evidence given. She rejected Gloriavale’s attempt to downplay the contents or the importance of it. What we Believe has much to say about Education. It would be extremely unwise for the MOE and other education-related departments to ignore What We Believe, or believe Gloriavale’s new claims that What We Believe is out of date and they don’t use it any more. The judge did not believe these claims. Here is an extract from page 113, 2018 version of What we Believe:

“It is the responsibility of the Church to educate its own children, and never to send them to State schools under the influence of ungodly teachers, ungodly curriculum, and ungodly children. The Church must therefore make provision of buildings, curriculum, materials and equipment, and suitable Christian teachers to assist the parents in the bringing up of the children God has given them. The parents will be involved wherever possible in the school.

They should be taught all such other knowledge and skills, in academic, technical and practical realms as will prepare them as soon as possible to take a full adult part in the complete life of the Church. All their education should be relevant to the Christian life before them, and none of it must be in any way contrary to any part of the Christian faith or to any part of the life of this Church. The children’s daily education should include periods of working with adults in the normal practical work of the Christian Community, that the children might have the privilege of feeling part of the adult community and of being able to make a worthwhile contribution towards it. They will learn to work, to experience the realities of life, to relate to adults, to appreciate the benefit of their school work, and to come to maturity earlier.

Since the New Testament declares that a young man may marry his virgin (which would be the one God has given him), if she pass the flowers of her age, (which are her monthly periods), it is essential that the total upbringing of each child within the home, the school and the Church Community be so planned and organised that by the time the young people have come to this stage of physical sexual maturity, they also will have learned to take a full place in the adult work-force and will have come to a degree of social, mental, emotional and spiritual maturity sufficient to enable them to be married, if at that stage in their lives they choose to do so.

Therefore, the children must complete their schooling to a satisfactory level at the earliest possible age so that they may have sufficient time bearing the responsibilities of adulthood in the Community work-force to allow them to develop the level of maturity necessary for them to enter into marriage if they should so choose by the time they are legally allowed to do so.

In New Zealand, where the present minimum school-leaving age is 15 years, and the present minimum age at which young people may legally marry with their parent’s consent is 16 years, that means completing a satisfactory level of education by the time they turn 15 years so they can work as adults for at least one year before they are legally able to marry.”

  • Girls were socially entrapped – as shown by evidence of numbers leaving. They worked because they were told to work, trained by birth, and there were dire consequences. Having a private school enabled this entrapment even more to. The judge admitted they were trapped.
  • They were ill-equipped to navigate the outside world and had been taught to fear it. (ie their education was limited and didn’t meet basic NZ standards)
  • Choice is an illusion (this included choice for parents relating to their children ie education or work.)
  • They were trained by birth to imbue the norms of the society. Having a private school has enabled this.
  • They were taught to suffer and not complain.
  • No ability to choose or decide life path – including educational options. Dr Norris’ report and evidence is essential to understanding this.
  • Being out of unity was taught at all ages and in all places of the community – including school.
  • Independence and autonomy was unacceptable
  • Critical thinking was discouraged. What kind of school is allowed to exist where this is actively discouraged and punished?
  • Acting in any individualised way risked their existence in the community. In an educational sense, this impacts their ability to have gifts and talents and to be extended in them (unless they helped the community – ie painting or music for concerts etc)
  • Shunning and Shaming were used publically for various transgressions and has lingering long-lasting effects. These were used in all spheres of life, including the school.
  • Disciplinary meetings included school-aged children without parents. Defendants in the Employment court case, Shepherds Stephen Standfast and Faithful Pilgrim were involved in hundreds, (if not thousands) of these meetings over the decades. These leaders were are are also involved in education in Gloriavale. Faithful Pilgrim is back teaching after completing his teaching suspicion, and Stephen is organising the Home School Steering Committee…
  • Significant power and control is clearly at play in the community, in the workplace and most definitely in the school.
  • The Christian Church Charitable Trust does have involvement in the school at Gloriavale, as does the leadership. (Check the school registration documents and the information about who owns the school assets). Regardless, the judge can see that the Charitable Trust and all structures are tightly linked back to the control of the Overseeing Shepherd and his subordinates. This is then clearly relevant to the school.
  • In our opinion the parents have been limited in their education, and so they don’t recognise the same limiting factors being applied to their children’s lives. They think their school is wonderful and have been told it’s better than what’s in the world. Current members don’t know any better because they have no ability to see past their closed world.
  • The parents have had no power to make educational choices, and even though the school is struggling, the changes and adaptations they are making is only through necessity – not desire. The leaders have recently stated that “This home-schooling thing has gone too far. We will not close the school.”

Personal Conclusion: The school has played a role in priming young ladies for a life of servitude. And it’s been sitting here right here in New Zealand under the noses of the bureaucratic establishments.

Challenge: Who will do their job and properly?

PART TWO – grab a cuppa and read some interesting quotes from the Employment Court judge. (Click here to read her full judgement.)


Overseeing Shepherd

  • The Overseeing Shepherd is required to diligently seek and find the will of Christ concerning “every person and every issue in the life of the Church.” This includes the practical life (which includes work) as I will come to. The Overseeing Shepherd has “full responsibility for all that happens in the Church”.

Obedience is required

  • All members of the Community are required to obey the leaders “in all things and submit themselves willingly to them as unto the Lord…” The leaders and Community members are required to “give account” to the Overseeing Shepherd. The Overseeing Shepherd gives account to no-one but God. In this regard What We Believe records that:16. Since this principal leader … must give account to God for the state of every soul in the Church, and for all the affairs of the Church, then he must be given the authority by everyone to oversee every aspect of the life of the Church as he sees fit. He may make any decision on his own or involve as few or as many people as he chooses in making any decision. In it all, he must seek to bring every person in the Church to a perfect unity over every decision, and, as much as possible, to a good understanding of the issues involved.”

Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian – first Overseeing Shepherd

  • Hopeful Christian was sentenced to prison for sex offences against young women within the Gloriavale Community in 1995. He did not pursue an appeal against his convictions. He did pursue an appeal against the sentence that had been imposed. The Court of Appeal dismissed that appeal on grounds set out in a judgment of the Court. It was apparent that this sequence of events, and the details of his offending, came as a surprise to various witnesses residing in Gloriavale. Hopeful Christian returned to his Overseeing Shepherd role after his release from prison and remained Overseeing Shepherd of the Community until his death in 2018.

What work did the Plaintiffs do? Age left school.

  • During their time at Gloriavale the plaintiffs carried out work within the Community from a young age (around six), including on what were called duty days. Their involvement in work incrementally increased as they got older. They progressed to working full time on what are known as the Teams as soon as they left school, at around 15 years of age.

No Choice

  • The evidence disclosed that none of the plaintiffs were given a choice about whether they worked on the Teams or not. Broadly speaking, that decision had been assigned at birth, having been born female. Nor (as I will come to) did any of the plaintiffs (or their parents) exercise any real choice about which Team they worked on. Rather, the plaintiffs were assigned to a particular Team without any real consultation, and generally became aware of which Team they had been assigned to when they left the Community school, and saw their name written on a roster on a Community notice board in the main building.

Typical Week

  • In a typical week in 2018, the female workforce in the kitchen produced more than 11,000 meals; the female workforce in the laundry washed at least 17,000 items. The evidence clearly established that the work required to produce these outcomes was unrelenting, grinding, hard, and physically and psychologically demanding.


  • It is apparent that for the plaintiffs their time at Gloriavale, and their experience working there, has left deep scars…. I was left with no doubt that they worked extremely hard, and under punishing conditions, during their time on the Teams. And it was clear that other witnesses, who currently reside at Gloriavale, also worked hard on the Teams during the relevant time.

Gloriavale’s Strict rules are enforced

  • The Gloriavale Community has strict rules and practices. The strict rules and practices apply to all aspects of life, including what is called the “practical life”. The practical life includes work, as various witnesses accepted.
  • The strict rules and practices emanate from the Bible but are interpreted, and enforced, by the male leaders. The Overseeing Shepherd is the final arbiter of any interpretative issue, or dispute about the application of the Bible’s teachings, in any particular case. Sarah Standtrue encapsulated the position in evidence: “… in submitting to the leaders we are submitting to God.” 

What We Believe – foundational operating document

  • Before proceeding further, it is necessary to deal with a common thread of evidence given by a number of witnesses for the Gloriavale leadership, namely that What We Believe is considered largely irrelevant in their lives. I was not drawn to this aspect of the evidence. It significantly downplayed the importance of What We Believe and was at odds with how the Overseeing Shepherd himself described the role of the document within the Community when questioned about it. He confirmed that What We Believe is a summary of what the leaders understand scripture to require Christian life to be, noting that the leaders’ understanding can change over time. Nor was the evidence about relevance consistent with the fact that What We Believe has continued to be amended by the male leaders over the years, most recently in 2022 and before that in 2018.
  • Also relevant, in any event, is the acceptance in evidence (including by various current leaders) that any changes to the text of What We Believe take time to translate into changes in attitude and behaviour within the Community. The point is most graphically made by a statement in the 2018 version of What We Believe that departure from the Community puts the person’s soul in peril. It is evident that Fervent Stedfast interpreted this as meaning that if anyone left, or broke their Commitment to the Church, they would go to hell. He taught this within the Community during the relevant time, a fact accepted by the Overseeing Shepherd in evidence. And it is particularly notable that the threat of eternal damnation was referred to by a number of the plaintiffs as a significant factor in their “choosing” to remain in the Community, and continuing to abide by the Community’s way of life (including as to work) rather than exercising a “choice” (as the Gloriavale leadership put it) to leave.

Educated to work in the Community

  • In this regard the plaintiffs knew from an early age that they would work on the Teams, and their early life as girls was primed to that end.  The point is, as the Overseeing Shepherd accepted, that all children are prepared for the practical life of work within the Community. He also accepted in cross-examination that all of the plaintiffs were trained for the practical life, and for them that meant work on the Teams. This was reinforced by Temperance Hopeful, a senior woman and current resident within the Community:
                   But you only educated [the girls in the Community] to the extent necessary for their role        in the community is that correct?A. Oh, yes, well we educated them so that they would, yes, that would be true.
  • The Overseeing Shepherd went further, accepting that children are educated so that they are not equipped for the outside world, and that part of the leadership strategy is to ensure that children are kept separate from the outside world in order to keep them within the Community. The Overseeing Shepherd also explained the desirability of keeping the broader congregation away from the outside world, a concept referred to as “Separation” within What We Believe.
  • The pre-determined position of girls/women in respect of the work they were expected to do within the Community (the expectation being firmly set by the Overseeing Shepherd and the leadership group of subordinate Shepherds and trickled down from there) was echoed by the evidence of current residents.
  • I have reached the conclusion, based on the evidence before the Court, that the plaintiffs did their work on the Teams, which admittedly benefitted the Community, because that is what they were told to do; what each of them had been trained to accept from birth; and the consequences of not doing what was expected (namely falling “out of unity”) were dire and well known – exclusion from the Community, from all that was familiar, from family and friends, and into a world they know little about, were ill equipped to navigate and had been taught to fear.

Girls more entrapped than males

  • The limited scope of the choice – to work or not to work, to stay or to go – which was in reality available to young women in the plaintiffs’ position, was underscored by material placed before the Court by the Gloriavale leadership. It identified people who had left Gloriavale between the ages of 13 and 20, differentiating them by gender and whether they had left “of their own choice” or with their family. It is notable that three boys left at 15 years of age in comparison to one girl; eight boys left at 16 years of age in comparison to two girls; six boys left at 17 years of age in comparison to one girl. The disparity is striking and reinforced evidence given by the plaintiffs that they essentially felt trapped for a period of time before they left the Community. 

The choice is an illusion

  • The situation that the plaintiffs found themselves in has some parallels with the sort of cultural dynamics not infrequently seen by this Court in migrant worker cases, where the employer (sometimes a migrant worker themselves) exploits (wittingly or otherwise) the willingness of their workers to work in a way that is perhaps accepted elsewhere, though not in New Zealand. In one sense working in this way is voluntary – the migrant worker can choose not to take up the position or, having done so, can choose to leave. But the extent of any “choice” is largely illusory and must be seen on a spectrum. The plaintiffs were, I find, close to the no-or-very little real choice end of the spectrum in terms of work.

Trained from birth

  • My conclusions are further reinforced by the fact that Community members such as the plaintiffs were essentially trained to enjoy work from a very young age. Not only were the plaintiffs trained to enjoy work, but the accepted norm, reinforced by the Gloriavale leadership, was that each of the plaintiffs would work willingly and bear any hardship that came with it without complaint (“You were told it was good to suffer. It was good to put your flesh down, and it was good to be tough.” “… you were taught not to complain. You were taught that you needed to be happy in denying yourself.”) As Rapture Standtrue (current member) said: “If people can grasp that those who choose to live as Christians at Gloriavale, believe the word of God with all their hearts, then they will understand why we choose to deny self and endure hardship.”
  • The plaintiffs understood, because of their upbringing, what their expected role was within the Community in terms of the hierarchy and who would decide the broad nature of the work they would undertake. They knew that they were expected to do as the Overseeing Shepherd asked, either himself or through his delegates (the subordinate leaders; House Mother and Team Leaders) and they did it.

No ability to choose or decide life path

  • In summary, the evidence clearly established that none of the plaintiffs made a decision about whether they worked on the Teams or when they started work or where. Those decisions were effectively made for them by the Overseeing Shepherd, through his subordinate leaders and other senior people (including women) within the Community. Each of the plaintiffs was born into the Community and they were taught from birth that they were to submit to male leadership in all aspects of their life, including their work. Because that had been deeply engrained from a very young age, including through modelling by other women in the Community, their ostensible voluntary progression to work on the rosters (from helping on duty day and in the kitchen or laundry to working full-time on the Teams) followed as night follows day.
    As Dr Norris put it: [a woman] is likely to struggle to refuse any aspect of the assigned role…due to their lifetime experience living within the values and rules of the community (and their lack of experience living outside those values and rules). 
  • By way of further context, the Overseeing Shepherd explained (and as is reflected in What We Believe), once a person has become a “true Christian” they surrender to the Church, and critical thinking is discouraged. So if, for example, a female member of the Community wanted to continue as an independent individual, that would be unacceptable and they would be obliged to leave the Community. The underlying concept is known within the Community as “unity”. Each of the plaintiffs understood the importance of maintaining unity, of not applying critical thinking to their situation and of not acting in a way that could be seen as individualised or at risk of being seen to be “out of unity.” In this regard What We Believe taught that: “It is entirely against the will of Christ for any Christian to persevere in any belief or practice which he knows is contrary to that which is followed in the Church… And that: Submitting ourselves … to our leaders is one of the surest ways of finding God’s will in our lives.”

Shunning & Shaming

  • Unity (and submission to the leadership) was reinforced by the practice of shunning, as the Overseeing Shepherd accepted, and public acts of shaming for various transgressions, which were referenced in evidence. While I accept that shaming may not have been a regular occurrence, the reality is that the impact of it when it did happen was significant. It had lingering, long-term, effects, and was particularly effective in disincentivising behaviour the Overseeing Shepherd and his subordinate leadership team did not approve of.

Disciplinary Meetings (SS Meetings)

  • One example involved a disciplinary meeting convened by the Shepherds and Servants in response to hair cutting by girls within the Community. At the meeting a girl, who had rushed to the meeting so as not to be late, did not have her hair parted in the correct place and had one (not the required two) clips in her hair. Evidence was given that: She got stood up in the middle of the floor and Stephen Standfast just yanked her scarf off her head and told her she was a whore and ripped into her because she had one clip in her hair. We were hauled over the coals about hair cutting, then Fervent Stedfast said to […] and I, “Right, we’re going to cut all your hair off and shave you, and you will be an example”. We looked at each other and thought, “We’re going to leave, we’re just going to run as fast as we can.” It was terrifying, but Hopeful stood up and said, “No.”
  • Stephen Standfast, a senior leader within the Community and the man chosen by Howard Temple as his successor, was questioned about this incident. He accepted that it had occurred and said that he regretted it. While the second defendants objected to this evidence, on the grounds of relevance, I refer to it because it neatly illustrates a number of points about power and control, the nature of relationships within the Community, and the impact of any perceived departure from accepted norms and how the leadership dealt with them during the relevant time, including through fear. Such matters are, in my view, of broader relevance to the matters at issue in these proceedings and help to explain the context in which the plaintiffs worked and why. The evidence is also relevant because it reinforces the position of the Overseeing Shepherd, exercising definitive decision-making powers in a situation involving a proposed course of action by a senior Shepherd.

Significant Power & Control

  • The meeting, and how it unfolded, illuminates the broader context in which the plaintiffs carried out their work within the Community; and sheds light on why they did what they did, without complaint. It amply demonstrates the significant power and control wielded by the Gloriavale leaders, headed by the Overseeing Shepherd, and the way in which opposing thought or action, falling out of unity, was dealt with.
  • The evidence satisfies me that the plaintiffs expected to be rewarded for their work while working on the Teams and that they received a reward for their work on the Teams. In this regard, in exchange for their work they expected to be permitted to remain in the Community with their family and friends and continue to lead a life they were familiar with; that they would receive food, shelter, clothing, religious support and guidance; and the promise of spiritual redemption (as against the threat of eternal damnation if they left).
  • I have referred to the ostensible willingness of the plaintiffs to undertake the work they did over a number of years and the very limited choice they exercised in reality.

…The reality is that the plaintiffs worked in line with what was expected of them as a female member of the Community, coupled with a firm expectation that all able-bodied residents (including those in the plaintiffs’ position) would work hard and as directed. This was reinforced from the top down. The evidence established that the plaintiffs worked under the strict direction and control of the Overseeing Shepherd, through his subordinate leadership team. The plaintiffs were required to turn up to work as directed (according to a roster) and were told when and where to work, how they were to do their work and for how long they would do it.

Christian Church Charitable Trust

  • The Christian Church Charitable Trust is administered by a Board of Trustees, referred to as “the Board”. The membership of the Board is set out at cl 3, and comprises the Overseeing Shepherd (where he wishes to become a Board member), the Overseeing Shepherd’s appointed successor (where that person wishes to become a Board member) and at least one and up to six persons appointed by the Overseeing Shepherd, each for a period of three years, renewable. The Trust Deed of 11 July 2018 provides that the Church Leaders (named as Howard Temple, Fervent Stedfast, Enoch Upright, Samuel Valor and Mark Christian) comprise the Board, only some of whom are current Shepherds.
  • While control of all assets and funds of the Trust is said to be the responsibility of the Board the point may be said to become circular (for the purposes of assessing where the reality of the employment relationship lies) when the role of the Overseeing Shepherd and his subordinate leadership group in all areas of Community life, including work, is understood.

Declarations are Made

Declarations are made that Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage were employees while working on the Teams, when resident at Gloriavale.