Forty of Sharon Ready’s 71 grandchildren still live in the isolated Christian community of Gloriavale on the west coast.
Ready still calls it home, and has done so since its inception in North Canterbury, in 1969. But now she has come out against it in tears at an Employment Tribunal hearing, saying the claimants, including the was his own grandson, had been deprived of choice. .
“I believe it is my duty as a Christian to stand up to what has become evil.”
A group of leavers filed suit against the attorney general and community leaders. The hearing, before Chief Justice Christina Inglis, is taking place this week and will decide whether Gloriavale members are employees or volunteers.
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The decision will affect both those currently and previously living in Gloriavale with respect to their working conditions, wages and employment rights.
Ready, now 65, was brought to Springbank Christian Community by her mother when she was 15.
When she arrived, she told the court that each family had their own house, money, possessions and vehicles.
The parents took care of their own children and the children went to local schools.
In 1988, Ready and her husband signed the first copy of Gloriavale’s “What We Believe” and her engagement.
They went to a meeting with the community leaders, but she didn’t have time to read it all, but she understood that it gave the newly dubbed Overseeing Shepherd control of the community’s finances, and her young family would be supported in an open, Christian society.
There was no suggestion of independent legal advice at any time, she said, a trend that has continued over the years.
The leaders “would just show up with the documents, ask us to sign, and we would do it.”
“I never felt like I had free choice when documents were put in front of me.”
After signing something new, nothing changed, but Ready said a notable exception was when she was asked to become a teacher and earn money from the government.
She was called into a meeting and asked to sign papers to open her own bank account, she said, and then another paper giving control to the shepherds.
“I realized that I didn’t know what they had done with our property, our land, our assets… but they were supposed to belong to the people.”
She had chosen to speak out after “much thought and prayer”.
Her grandson, plaintiff Hosea Levi Courage, had no choice about his profession, she said. It all depended on the overseeing shepherd and those he appointed as leaders.
“When you have…families torn apart in the name of God in a Christian community, then I believe something is wrong. Is this how Jesus would have it?
“There is a hidden dark side to this community, which needs to be brought to light.”
Much of Wednesday’s testimony focused on Gloriavale’s leadership structure, particularly the power held by Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple, which took over after the death of founder Hopeful Christian.
Faithful Disciple left with his wife and children in March 2021.
He was born into the community and recently worked at Value Proteins, a rendering company producing bone meal products.
Disciple said young workers were pressured to sign the pledge by the time they were 18, before they could get married or get a driver’s license.
“You don’t have access to the money, you’re never paid a salary… You basically work for your board and keep going.”
His family tried to leave in 2015, he said, but were discovered. They were convinced to stay, and Disciple was assigned a new job on the farm which he believed was punishment.
The isolation of work made him depressed, so he was transferred to the flour factory, where “the mad, the wicked and the sad” were sent.
“For me, going to work at the flour factory was like a life sentence in a penitentiary.
“It was noisy, smelly, hot and repetitive work.”
This was not the only punishment Disciple said he suffered during his time at Gloriavale, also participating in 20 disciplinary sessions with shepherds.
This involved being taken to a meeting and “harangued, humiliated, and subjected to severe mental stress to get you to submit to their will.”
He described Gloriavale as “a regime of brutal control”, with members conditioned to follow the authority of the shepherds from an early age, through a combination of public humiliation, denial of food and, in the past, punishment. bodily.
Disciple said leaving didn’t seem like an option.
“You’ve never had a choice before, and you’re told the other choice is certain damnation…you have no hidden pocket money…
“I made this choice [to stay]but I believe it was under duress.
Following his departure, Disciple said he was “delighted” to finally receive his first salary at 35.
“I and many others did not choose to join Gloriavale, we were born there.
“When government departments say we are not employees, they condemn us to a life of servitude.”
John Ready, a father of 10 who has also spent most of his life in the community, worked as a farm manager before being deported.
“From my observation, it’s not a charitable trust structure, not a corporate structure, it’s a religious structure, plain and simple.”
The overseeing shepherd was like an “emperor,” he said, and members learned he was the “right hand of God.”
Even as manager, he only had authority over day-to-day affairs, he said, and requests such as the purchase of safety equipment for workers were denied.
Ready said he never filled in his staff’s full hours on the books because it was understood in the community that if you logged in too many hours, you’d “heat the cop.”
“Those who do not submit, obey or [who] challenging the Shepherd Watcher were disciplined, often brutally.
Gloriavale leadership attorney Scott Wilson said that with only eight shepherds, including the supervising shepherd, and eight servants, it was simply not possible for them to have absolute control over every person in a community of 600 people.
The statements used by witnesses, he said, such as “if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” were biblical quotes taken out of context and related to Gloriavale being a self-sufficient society.
Wilson questioned whether John Ready’s views were colored by the enmity he felt towards the community, and said Gloriavale had fully cooperated with labor inspection – which was inconsistent with a community trying to cover up things.
The hearing will continue on Thursday.