Fleeing Gloriavale: ‘I am not a victim’

Date20 February 2021
Publication Date20 February 2021
A young mum clad in ripped jeans on a Saturday morning in a house of her own giving her two sons a glass of chocolate milk each. The little boys then playing in their lounge room filled with colourful toys and watching cartoons, their mum speaking the odd word in te reo Māori.

Then it’s a video call with Dad.

But up until recently, Constance Ready wouldn’t have dreamt of family life quite like this. This year marks five years since the 27-year-old, who now goes by Connie, fled Gloriavale, a fundamentalist Christian community of about 600 people in the West Coast, where she was born along with her 12 siblings.

She was brought up on a very low-sugar diet. She didn’t have toys or a TV and cellphones were forbidden. She’d only ever worn a floor-length blue dress. Her Ngāti Porou heritage on her mother’s side was not embraced by elders.

She remembers her family having a heater in their shared bedroom, but it was later confiscated by elders.

“I remember how special it was, us kids gathered around the heater on cold mornings. It’s the simple things you take for granted.”

At the peak, 11 family members shared a room and Ready shared a bed with her younger sister.

She now lives in Rotorua and works as a consultant for Arbonne, selling its beauty and nutrition products. The irony of working with makeup is not lost on her.

“It was considered very worldly and not necessary.”

Now with her own social media account, one of her posts really sums up how far Ready has come.

The caption reads: “Thanks Dad for spending some catch up time with us and your moko. Was great to see you come back soon.”

There’s the fact she’s posted something at all — the internet is also considered too “worldly” for members of the sect. But even more astounding is the subject of the photo, Clem Ready. Her father. The man she reported to police after she ran away from the sect following years of physical abuse at his hands.

He was convicted in 2018 of abusing Ready and her younger sister Prayer, who died in an unrelated incident after choking on a piece of meat while locked in an isolation room.

Ready says she felt a duty to report her father in an attempt to get justice for Prayer — who had Down syndrome — the youngest of the 13 siblings.

But she has now forgiven him. She even took him in after he left Gloriavale himself following the court case.

“Forgiveness for me is not about what the other person is doing but it’s a point where I can now move on from that and realise that I can be the bigger person,” she tells the Weekend Herald.

“I can be an adult about it now. I’m not a child, I’m not a victim.

“As a child you rely on other people to be good to you, to feel wanted and feel accepted and feel loved. As an adult, I don’t have to have that to love myself and accept myself.”

Clem Ready is back living on Gloriavale grounds but working as a carpet layer in Greymouth and locked in a battle with the elders about his presence there.

The Weekend Herald can reveal his wife, Sharon Ready, 64 — who spent 50 years in the sect, making her one of the longest-serving members — is also defying leaders with her first job on the outside as an early childhood teacher.

The family is now at the centre of a civil legal case set to shake up the commune. Sharon and son John, Connie’s oldest sibling, have launched a potentially landmark legal case to try and remove the leadership.

WHEN GLORIAVALE founder Neville Cooper and his wife, Gloria, moved from Australia to New Zealand in the 1960s, they stayed with Sharon’s family, who they knew through church circles.

Cooper went on to found the Springbank Christian Community at Cust, near Christchurch.

In 1971, Sharon’s father, Tuakana, drowned and Cooper offered to take in her mother, Ivy Rerehuia Green, and her nine children. Sharon, the eldest, was 14.

“It would have been a hard time for her,” Connie Ready explains.

“They said they’d provide a house for her, she wouldn’t have to worry about bills. They’d take care of her.”

Clem Ready, now 66, was vulnerable like Ivy, his daughter says. He joined the community in his late teens after his mother died of cancer.

Cooper would later change his name to Hopeful Christian, move the expanding community to the Haupiri Valley and rename it Gloriavale. The community would be plagued by scandal over the years. In 1995, Cooper served 11 months in prison on sexual abuse charges. Members of the...

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