Many thanks to the many contributors of this history, including family and friends of founding members, along with books and written sources. Please connect with us if there are material errors. Our gratitude to Lauren Rosanowski who compiled the majority of this history.

Springbank, which became Gloriavale, was founded by self-proclaimed preacher and evangelist, Neville Cooper. Leavers describe it as a system built on one man’s personality, that morphed over time into a society that resembled a communist dictatorship.

So who was Neville Barkley Cooper (later renamed Hopeful Christian)?

Born in Australian in 1926, Neville left school at the age of 12 to work in his father’s fruit shop. Other sources say he left school at 14 and worked for a panel beater.

It is told that his father was a hard man and his mother was frugal and mean, having brought up Neville and his siblings in the depression. It was understood his parents argued quite a bit, and his wife didn’t show signs of being a submissive wife. At 16 Neville left home, estranged from his family. He enjoyed rugby league and being quite intense he was involved in lots of activities.

Early 20’s

Towards the end of the war he joined the Air Force for less than a year, but he never went into active service. His older brother died in Africa during the war and this had quite an impact on him.  Sources believe in his early 20s’ he had some sort of mental crisis described as burnout or some sort of breakdown episode. He stayed with his aunty during this time and she was involved with the Church of Christ.

Conversion Experience

It was while he was in this period of poor mental health and living with his aunty, that he said he had a spiritual conversion experience and “God called him to be his minister”. He was around 21 and fervently began his pursuit of the Christian Life. At church Neville met Gloria Perry and married her in 1949 (Neville was 21, Gloria was 16).

He attended a Bible School for a short period of months, only to leave again saying these Christians lacked zeal.  This was to be a much-repeated theme throughout his ministry. He didn’t think other Christians were as intense as him. It appears from early on Neville was difficult to approach and he quickly stuck trouble and became out of kilter with people.

Itinerant Preaching Ministry

At the age of 23 Neville began preaching, establishing himself as an itinerant preacher. He was young, energetic and resolute in his beliefs. The idea of having a faith-based life where he would trust God for his daily needs was appealing to him. His mission to take the Word of God to as many people as possible was in the style of a ‘hellfire and brimstone’ preacher. His charisma drew many people to hear his messages preached from marquees, the ministry labelled the ‘Voice of Deliverance’. Due to his early air force training, Neville was able to fly a light aircraft to remote places to deliver his message. Often away for days or weeks at a time, Gloria was left at home with a young and ever growing family. One thing about him is that he was consistently intense.

Gloria was a good wife and Hopeful spoke of his appreciation for her and the sacrifices that she made. Even though they had a large family (16 children in total), the family seemed to function reasonably normally, although there were times of deprivation, and neglect.

For the next 15 years a pattern emerged, where Neville would move his family to align himself with a Christian church or ministry but he would ‘fall-out’ with with them. The family would them move and set up in a new town and attend a local church, only for another disagreement over theology or doctrine. They were regularly moving every 12-18 months at some stages.

Life wasn’t always smooth, with his mission caravan going up in flames, and then a miraculous escape from a crashed areoplane. But these difficulties just instilled in Neville  greater sense of calling.

Neville tried to start a precursor to a Christian community in an are where aboriginies and down and outer would be able to come to the farm. He made some plans with his friend Mel Hibert but again there was a falling out and it never came to fruition.

This common theme kept coming through that he felt unsupported and hurt by people who deserted him and who had a lack of loyalty. Those close to him said he didn’t seem to have the strength to push through with projects on his own, and he needed to use others. He needed to have others who were strongly loyal to him to help him achieve his vision. While this pattern repeated itself, Neville’s itinerant ministry continued to grow and he was well known and liked as a courageous, convicting preacher.

Visit to New Zealand

Having been to New Zealand earlier for a three month preaching tour, Neville was once again invited to preach in New Zealand in 1967. This time he decided to take his family with him (there were nine children by this time), with the prospect that perhaps they might settle and make a life there. In the late 1960s there were quite a lot of revivalist ministries in New Zealand and while Neville was touring New Zealand the family settled in Feilding. Neville was drawing big crowds to his events and was somewhat of a celebrity. His message continued to be one sacrificing oneself for the needs of others, seeking to live in a Godly manner and giving all glory to God.

Early years at Cust

About a year later, the family moved south to Rangiora. Revival meetings were being held at the Christian Revival Centre (later known as New Life Centre), and they had an outpost at Rangiora. Peter Morrow and other visiting speaker were the main evangelists during these meetings, but at some point Neville was invited to come along. Perspectives vary at this point about the mechanisms of what occurred. Neville told his followers that he was invited by the Christian Revival Centre to share in the leadership of the Rangiora group, but that is disputed by people who were leaders at the time, Neville had a way of ingratiating himself into a group and before long he ended up taking over the gathering and putting himself in as the leader.

Memoirs and letters from Christian leaders to Neville at the time show that they tried to make him aware of some concerning behaviors, but the old pattern remained and Neville cut contact and fellowship with the Christchurch Revival Centre around 1970.

This time, instead of relocating his family, Neville hired the St Johns Ambulance Hall (down the road from the church) and began holding Sunday services to continue his evangelism. Most of the group moved with him although, later a few families left and rejoined Christchurch Revival Centre which later established as the Rangiora New Life Church. A loyal member said the reason these families left was because they, ‘”could not handle Hopeful’s preaching of the book of Acts regarding the sharing life, having all things common, and loving our neighbour as ourselves.”


Neville gathered a large following and they became known as the ‘Cooperites’. As the group grew they were respected and admired by the wider community for their practical, helpful and compassionate ways of life. They worked on projects such as establishing gardens, and doing up old cars and giving them away, as expressions of their Christian living. Neville preached that Christian living should be seen. At this early stage, this was already shaping not only what the community did but also how they looked. Women were encouraged to dress modestly with mid-calf length dresses and a renouncement of ‘worldly’ vanities.

Springbank Property

George Harrision was a local who had four children, and owned a farm at Springbank, near Cust, Rangiora. In 1970 Neville’s first born, Faith, married Alan Harrison. This was followed by John Harrison’s marriage to Neville’s daughter Grace. Over time the community used the farm at Springbank as the base for the Christian Ministry. Various blocks were owned by different parties – George & Janet, Alan & Faith and John and Grace, and over time his relationships with each couple got a little complicated.

John was farming on the property, having borrowed from the bank to purchase the land from his parents before his conversion. John explained the situation like this: “When I had been converted to Christ for 18 months and married for 6 months, I got rheumatic fever, was in bed, very ill, for 6 months, and the fever damaged a valve in my heart. During this time in bed, Hopeful visited me every day, sharing the scriptures with me. One scripture he shared was Romans 13:8, “Owe no man anything…..” I then started praying and decided to sell 300 acres and clear my debt. I was only left with 100 acres (40ha) and was certain that I couldn’t make a living off that. Surprise, surprise, Grace and I did OK on our little block. Hopeful never once suggested that I give that block to the community, and I never thought of it myself. After approximately 10 years a brother said to me that the community did not follow private ownership but that we were following the book of Acts, those having lands or houses, sold them and laid the money at the apostles feet, and distribution was made to every man as he had need. I didn’t have to think about it, or pray about it, that was my heart, I had just not thought about it. I discussed it with Grace, and we gave the land to the Trust, willingly and lovingly. This was Grace’s and my land, and no-one, not even my father George Harrison, had any say over our decision to give it to the Church. Several years later we had some inheritance money came to us, and we did not even think about it, we just gave it to the community on the night we received it. The sharing, caring life toward the people living as members of the community is everything to us. Those who chose to leave were not part of what we were building.

Alan Harrison maintains that Neville Cooper never put any pressure on the family that owned the land to donate it and he didn’t apply pressure on the family to receive donations. He admitted that a few of the fanatical adherents did but not Neville. Any donations made by the family were made willingly and without coercion. Other family members and people close to the family don’t agree that coercion didn’t play a part.

Alan owned the 50-acre block on which a community primary school built, following Neville’s assertion that there must be a place where parents could be assured their children were receiving a religious education focussed on high moral standards. This grew quickly and shortly after a secondary school was also opened. As activity at the Springbank flourished, Neville decided to move his family to the property in 1976. This was followed by a strong encouragement for many others, especially young married couples, to relocate their lives to the property and live a Godly life alongside one another. Accommodation, laundry and dining blocks were built and a small farm helped the members to live out their desires to be self sufficient. Some members still worked outside and their wages supported the community. There was a strong sense of purpose amongst the people; everyone was working together for the common good.

Christian Church at Springbank

In 1977 Neville formally established his own church, calling it the ‘Christian Church at Springbank’. Initially there was to be a leadership team of Neville Cooper, Howard Pilgrim and Bobby Dawson (David Courage), who followed him from Australia. However, Neville’s force of personality won out. They were not able to reign him in.

With the new church came a move to stricter and more monitored everyday life and behaviour. Rules were growing around dress, worship, gender roles, parenting. Couples needed Neville’s permission to marry, and he emphasised that they should marry young. Timetables and rosters were introduced to organise people for daily life events such as mealtimes. Where once the community had been respected and admired by outsiders, now a sense of suspicion and apprehension was growing. Coming together to share all in common was being replaced by living together to share all in common. Bit by bit, the community was working itself to being shut off from the outside world. During this time there was an increasingly sexualised environment being promoted within families. Hopeful said he didn’t want people to be prudes, and children should see sexual activity between married people as normal.

In February 1979 Neville held his last open preaching session in Rangiora, closing down the church gatherings at the St John’s hall in favour of meeting only at Springbank. Evangelism continued however, as van loads of young people from the community would drive to Cathedral Square in the Christchurch CBD to witness and share their testimonies of salvation and Godly living. It is during these years that many young people from their mid-teens – early twenties, joined the community. A high number were singles travelling from overseas, looking for some meaning for their lives. This community answered their desire to belong to something.

However, as the seclusion and influence grew there were a number of people who had been involved in church and community who choose to leave. Notably, in 1979 Faith, Alan and their family left the Springbank property and the community following growing concerns over the power and control that was being displayed, and other issues. Information provided by the Royal Commission said that, “Alan Harrison offered to sign over the land to us if we built him a new five bedroom house in Rangiora. He provided the plans, we built the house, and he gave us the land.”

The Eighties

Neville had firmly established his control over what appeared to be a reasonably loyal group of new recruits, and it’s during this time that an unhealthy underbelly of the sexualized environment began to be even more prevalent. Neville was becoming bolder in his “marriage education sessions”  interfering in many marriages for years to come. This activity set the scene for the eruption of sexual abuse that was to be exposed during the early 2020’s.

As time continued, Neville looked to other religious communities to refine and shape his ideals of Godly life. The Amish, Mennorites, and Hutterites featured, although he saw the Hutterites as the closest to living a Biblical life. In 1987 some elders from a Hutterite community in the United States visited Springbank at Neville’s invitation. Also, about 30 young unmarried community members from Springbank travelled to the United States and toured the Hutterite community. Interestingly the visiting elders were not agreeable to the ways that Neville was directing the community, including the establishment of one man as the ruler, the lack of accountability, theological differences and the highly sexualised environment.

Questions soon arose as to who would own the land, especially if there was a division in the church. Neville discussed this issue with the men, and it was decided that the land would be owned by a trust, and the beneficiaries of the trust would be the people who believed what we believed. “What We Believe was born” (as amended from time-to-time!). This foundational document detailed what it meant to be part of this Church, and part of it was the binding Commitment vow – where members promised to hold to the doctrines the church, obediently, to the peril of their souls.

In 1989 the official purchase of the land was complete and the land transferred to the newly formed Trust. Interestingly, court records showed that the purchases of the land were Neville Copper and Robert Dawson – both Australian immigrants were who legally not allowed to own land in New Zealand. They both selected the “NZ Citizen by Birth” option. Early on there were lies and deceit in the ministry of Neville Cooper.


In 1990 Neville Cooper changed his name to Hopeful Christian.

By this stage the community had grown both in number of people and in industry. Many businesses had been established in the quest for self-sufficiency and self-support. Methane gas conversion, mechanical work, flights, dairying, trade work such as electrical, carpentry, plumbing and teaching were some of the skills and capabilities held within the community. The growth of the community was of keen interest to Neville and those he now had in leadership under him  were known as Shepherds. They were  chosen from those who were showing leadership in business areas, but it because a more spiritual and pastoral role, with Shepherds and Servant being allocated onto the hostel floors in later years.

In 1991 there were two significant events that shaped the future of the community. Firstly, the community purchased 917ha of land on the West Coast (followed by another purchase which brought the total ownership to 1700ha at a later date). Secondly, in March 1991, Gloria passed away after suffering from a brain tumor. Gloria and Neville were married 41 years and had 16 children. In honour of her, Neville named the new property on the West Coast ‘Gloriavale’.

Move to the West Coast

The migration to the West Coast began with the building of infrastructure for community life. First the dairy sheds were built, followed by the accommodation blocks. These were hostels for where each family, depending on size, would be appointed one or two bedrooms with several families sharing a floor.  Dining facilities, large commercial kitchen, school rooms and office spaces followed in time. As infrastructure grew and businesses were established, the community began the migration from Springbank to Gloriavale. By 1994 the community had fully moved to the new West Coast location and Springbank was sold. Leavers comment on the prevalent pioneering attitude which meant they suffered through some cold winters, and lived in inappropriate lodgings. There was no privacy, safety of security. And numerous sexual offenders were already establishing their patterns of predation in the community.

Imprisonment for Hopeful Christian

In June 1993 the Police began an investigation in Neville Cooper following allegations of sexual misconduct. Dawn raids were executed on July 20th 1993 at both the Springbank and Gloriavale properties, which resulted in the arrest of Neville Cooper. The investigation continued and was brought to trial in December 1995.  There were two trials. In the first one, Neville was found guilty on ten counts of sexual violation against 5 complainants and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He went to prison, but was released when he successfully requested an appeal maintaining that that the jury was misdirected by the judge. The charges were quashed and retrial ordered. In May 1996  only the most serious of the charges were taken to court. He was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault (being found at the higher end). Neville didn’t deny the offending, but he stated his intentions were for good. The sentence remained at five years imprisonment, however, he only served around a year of his sentence (being released in Nov 1996).  He was let out for good behaviour. During this time the community was led to believe that Neville’s imprisonment was due to his religion and preaching of the gospel.

During his time in prison Neville was still directing the church and would read out sermons for them to listen to over the telephone. When he came back to Gloriavale, he was eventually reinstated fully as leader – although some say he never actually stood down.


Buoyed by his ability to evade disasters and imprisonment, Hopeful confidentially lead the community into a time of extreme devotion – to him and God. The second generation of “born-in” members were being married off in large numbers, and the community started to experience impressive growth. A few teens left, but generally, these members were obedient, loyal, submissive and fully indoctrinated into the community way of life. The businesses were bustling along, but they relied on child labour to keep the community finances ticking over. Physical punishments, humiliation and cruelty were widely used by members and leaders to keep their members bound to the system. An explosion of sexualised behaviors took off amongst the youth, but it went largely unchecked. Leaders were aware, but they inadequately dealt with offending parties. They hardly had an contact with the outside world, their wider family connections were cut. It was the perfect recipe for a cult disaster.

Meanwhile Gloriavale was starting to establish relationships in India, and they linked up with an orphanage and decided to formalise their relationship. An Indian Gloriavale  community was eventually established.

It was a blow to the community when Hopeful’s much loved daughter Miracle, and husband Perry and their children left the community to  try to stablise their family. They were the first family that had left for a long time.


A number of second generation singles started to leave the community, believing there must be a better life elsewhere. During this decade was an increase in expulsions for anyone who disobeyed or dared question Hopeful or the leadership. The rules got tighter and tighter. It’s during this decade that the first second-generation married couple with children left the community. Rosanna and Elijah Overcomer’s departure sparked a desire in them to expose the wrong, bring the truth and free their families from Gloriavale. Rosanna and Elijah settled near Timaru, attending a local church, where members soon got involved in underground missions work. Over this decade upwards of 130 people left the community, with a peak of around 35 people in 2015. Most notably was the Ben Canaan family who came out with 12 children.

Gloriavale was still interested in international outposts, and they began a relationship with a group in Kenya, and started supporting them. They didn’t quite get to the “wearing blue” stage, but Gloriavale was financially keeping them afloat. Many leavers are adamant this is a scam ministry.

Gloriavale embarked on a PR mission and between 2014 – 2018 three documentaries were produced by NZ Funding (Pacific Screen) showing a loving and caring community. However, their attempt to recruit new members from the outside failed. Some people attempted to join, but many quickly recognised the unhealthy and unsafe community it was.  The documentaries had another impact. It brought ex-members out of the woodwork to share about the underbelly of the Gloriavale community – the abuse, the neglect, the physical disciple, and the control over every aspect of people’s lives. The media attention has continued to focus on Gloriavale to this day. The Police were alerted and there were calls for the Charities Services to investigate. This lead to a period of time where Gloriavale made promises of change, but their promises were not sincere, and life continued on, and even got worse for some.

Men were being expelled for having contact with the apostates, and husbands and wives were being separated by the community. Children were caught in custody battles and there was much grief as serious shunning took centrestage.

Hopeful died in May 2018 at the age of 92. The mantle passed to Howard Temple, an ex-Navy Marine who had joined the community in his mid-30’s back in the 1980’s.

In 2019 the Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust was set up to assist the growing numbers of leavers.


The leaving trend continued with another 130 or more members having left by the start of 2024. By now the Police were involved as another explosion of sexual abuse among boys was made public. Girls who suffered abuse were also finding their voices, and a series of prosecutions were underway. Police stated that over 138 potential victims of sexual and physical abuse had been identified, and over 400 crimes committed. 17  men were charged by 2023, and 18 more were under investigation. The Police also announced an investigation into forced labour, servitude and slavery after an Employment Court loss.

Leavers began court action on a number of fronts and many of these actions are still underway to this day.

Gloriavale is under pressure on every corner. But they firmly believe that “the gates of hell will not prevail against them.” The also hold to a firm faith that the Lord will come back any day to take the faithful to glory, and if they just hold on to the end, they will be saved. Safety is seen in the confines of the group.