Gloriavale religious commune: 'No one is here against their will'

Gloriavale Christian Community has responded to accusations by a family that walked out at the weekend claiming they were living in a "false system", by saying that "no one is here against their will".

James and Hope Ben Canaan and their 12 children left the Haupiri religious commune at the weekend.

They are now staying with a family 300km away in Timaru and setting about reintegrating into society.

Today, Gloriavale said it was "entirely their choice" to leave.

"If they want to go and live in Timaru, well, that's their choice and that's what they need to do. No one is here against their will. We only want people who want to be here," said Fervent Stedfast, a community brother who's been a Cooperite since 1970.

"We're here simply and entirely because we want to be here.

"If you decide to change your house, or change your religion or job, that is your choice, and you do it. Somehow or other when we do that... it puts us in the news."

Brother Stedfast wouldn't discuss details of what led to the Ben Canaan's sudden departure.

The family arrived in Timaru at the weekend.

When word of their bold move went around the South Canterbury town on Monday, donations soon began flooding in.

The family are said to have been "blown away" by the generosity of the local community after being gifted clothes, furniture, household goods, books and toys.

Supporters are no longer going ahead with plans for a Givealittle fundraising campaign.

However, Mr Ben Canaan, who managed Gloriavale's self-sufficient dairy farm for 20 years, is seeking a job.

Liz Gregory, who is putting up the family, said the family have been "hugely courageous".

"This family came to believe that they were in a false system and have left 500 of their family and friends - the only ones they've ever known," she said.

"They are feeling blessed, but are aware of the road ahead of them.

"It's a huge deal for them to stop wearing their community clothes and so they are going to transition slowly."

The Ben Canaans today thanked the Marchwiel Reformed Baptist Church and wider Timaru community for helping them reintegrate back into society.

"It's been quite overwhelming and we offer our sincere thanks to everyone involved," said a statement released by the family.

"At this time we are requesting privacy so that we can settle into our new lives."

The reclusive Gloriavale Christian community, which currently has more than 500 members, was founded in 1969.

It relocated from its original site at Cust near Rangiora, where it was known as the Springbank Christian Community, to Haupiri on the West Coast in 1991.

But it has attracted much controversy over the years, particularly through its leader Neville Cooper, also known as Hopeful Christian, who was convicted of sexual abuse in 1994 and spent 11 months in prison.

There have been reports of several large families leaving the settlement in recent years.

However, with no birth control, the population is said to be still flourishing.