Two of Gloriavale’s Leaders are stood down

Opinion Piece by Liz Gregory.

Yesterday two of Gloriavale’s leaders, Fervent Stedfast and Faithful Pilgrim, were asked to stand down from being Shepherds. Last week Gloriavale issued an unprecedented apology, which was printed in the front page of the Grey Star (an interesting place to publish an apology to leavers considering less than one percent of leavers or current members would have access to the  Grey Star). Other media requested the statement and the news spread far and wide very quickly.

Leavers had been making contact with us to talk about the apology and share their personal beliefs about it. One of the topics that was regularly raised was that the whole leadership should stand down. It is understood that Gloriavale’s lawyers encouraged the men to step aside.

So why select Fervent Stedfast and Faithful Pilgrim out of the larger group of Servants and Shepherds? Why didn’t the Overseeing Shepherd stand down? The apology explicitly included an admission relating to child labour – a serious offence. Surely the head of the organisation takes responsibility for this?

In the Employment Case Chief Judge Inglis noted,

 “It is apparent that the identified business needs of the Gloriavale commercial operations dictated what the labour requirements were, and where various children were to be placed, and for how long, in order to meet those requirements. It was also established that these decisions were made by the leadership group, under the oversight, direction and control of the Overseeing Shepherd.”

So why hasn’t the Overseeing Shepherd stood down?

The answer is simple and complex. To stand down as Overseeing Shepherd of a “True Church of God” is almost sacrilegious. ‘What We Believe’ says that the  Overseeing Shepherd is called of God, and when you read their document you can see that he is revered as just a little lower than Jesus himself (a star in the angel’s hand). It was very unlikely Gloriavale would offer up their Overseeing Shepherd as a sacrificial lamb first up. More than that, Howard has a way of being and doing that is quite different to Hopeful Christian. He appears to be more interested in listening, and people are more likely to trust him and come to him with their issues. He nods and listens and doesn’t criticise in the same way. He might not act on what people share with him, or have the leadership ability to actually create change, but people say he’s generally more amiable and approachable.

If he stood aside, who would take on the role of Overseeing Shepherd? Well his successor has already been named Stephen Standfast is a second generation cult member. He was born into the community and the problem is that this generation lacks the perspective of some others who were born and raised outside the community. The second generation of men who have been promoted to leadership are a bit more fanatical and could be called idealogues. They’re probably a bit more pure, and hardlined. At the moment, Gloriavale probably couldn’t afford to let this level of management take control.

If Howard stood aside, Gloriavale would be plunged into its next crisis. And at the moment, they can’t afford to make that step.

So next best is a couple of senior leaders who have created some current public relations problems.

Timing appears to be everything.

In the past week Faithful Pilgrim’s Teaching Council suspension was unsuppressed. This appears to have incidentally coincided with the public apology. Gloriavale leaders knew about the Teaching Council complaint against Faithful since August 2020, and would have been aware of the initial interviews, follow up interviews, initial hearing, pleading guilty, Disciplinary Hearing etc. It’s a loooooong process. At no time did they call on him to stand down from leadership during this whole process. But this week he was called on to stand down.

Fervent Stedfast has been the #2 power in Gloriavale for decades. He was the financial controller, Trustee and Shepherd until external pressures started coming on Gloriavale and he passed the financial mantle onto his sons who now operate aspects of the office. Many leavers believe that Fervent’s standing aside from the office responsibilities was a token move and he is still the “power behind the throne”.

During the Employment Court hearing Fervent Stedfast’s name kept popping up, and the question was asked, “Why hasn’t Mr Stedfast appeared to give evidence?”. The same question was asked of the Overseeing Shepherd, Howard Temple.

They were fair questions. But they didn’t need answering. Most people associated with Gloriavale suspected that Gloriavale did not put them on the stand because they were trying to reduce the amount of damage done, not increase it.

Fervent has also been the theological watchdog of Gloriavale for decades, assisting in the writing of their foundational document “What We Believe” and ensuring everyone else strictly adheres to every word. He takes this role as Shepherd very seriously. Some would say too seriously.

The Employment Court Chief Judge Inglis commented that,

“Loud alarm bells ought, in my view, to have been ringing from even a cursory reading of ‘What We Believe’ and various documents …”

Fervent Stedfast is the author of those documents. His name is out in the public. They just admitted to child labour and exploitation. It is right that he has stood down.

So yes, it’s big news that Fervent and Faithful have been “stood down” as shepherds. But the question remains, “What does it really mean?”

Does it mean that God has now not called them to lead the flock and the Church at Gloriavale? Or does it mean in a business sense that none of these guys will take responsibility for anything in a managerial sense? Will they actually stop doing the work they have been doing? Or just not attend the Servants and Shepherds meetings. In what capacity are they standing down?

Because to understand Gloriavale, you need to understand everything is connected. Its an interwoven conglomerate of business interests, with a live-in commune, and a religious system underpinning it. To try and untangle this is to miss the point of Gloriavale.

So what does it mean to “be stood down from leadership?”

It might not be able to be expressed simply. Leaders have been stood down in the past – most commonly for not being in “unity” with the leaders. The odd one has stood down over an incident, and then quietly reinstated when it felt appropriate. Allegations of physical or sexual assault usually aren’t enough to disqualify a leader at Gloriavale. In the case of Zion Pilgrim the worst sin was to be in contact with people who had left and have his own thoughts. Those sin are almost unforgiveable.

So why choose Faithful and Fervent over the others? Well perhaps that’s not the right question. Perhaps the question is “why now’?

There is no doubt brand damage has been done to Gloriavale with the allegations stretching through the years of exploitation and abuse, and the most recent Employment Court ruling deemed workers to be employees and not volunteers. This significant ruling catapulted Gloriavale into the headlines and the natural consequences for this are huge. Businesses threatened to boycott and this led to the public apology and now some heads are rolling.

The bigger question is “Is this action likely to create the meaningful change required at Gloriavale?”

Again, only time will tell.

Those who are wise will study the past and see what similar groups do when they are in crisis. Damage control is inevitable. Gloriavale’s back is against the wall, and it appears they are left with little choice.

But what most people want is a real heart change.

We pray there has been a heart change.

Only time will tell.