Gloriavale member says leaders die 'surrounded in loved ones'

The granddaughter of Gloriavale’s founder Hopeful Christian says the commune’s women are all given the same opportunities and praise.

Rachel Steadfast, who is the acting principal of Gloriavale Christian School, said she started working to help prepare meals with her Mum when she was eight.

“I would often stand by and watch the ladies preparing food, such as making apple pies, and I would ask if I could help roll the pastry and help fill the pie crusts, etc. It was such fun. Because of my interest in what the ladies were doing I was invited to help when I wanted to," said Steadfast.

“When I was 11, I was allowed to have a turn to help cook breakfast and this meant I only had to go to the family dining room and cook the toast for breakfast for my friends and extended family."

The Employment Court heard that Steadfast was not relied on as a worker on the teams until she was 13.

The teams are an organisational means of ensuring everyone didn’t all show up at the same time, and the roster was to make sure some weren’t doing too much, she said.

“Everyone was given the opportunity to contribute. I loved to help iron the clothes, as my Mum had already taught me how to iron all the different pieces of clothing at home.

"Now, I could not only iron a few aprons and hankies, I could iron the bigger things like trousers and dresses. I loved the social life on the team. I often had my sisters and cousins, aunties and friends working with me."

When Steadfast was older, she was allowed to make bread, first in small batches, cooking it on a small wood stove.

“I perfected the skill and felt very honoured when I was publicly complimented for the delicious bread I had cooked for everyone," she said.

“All the girls in my age group had the same opportunity and I remember them being publicly praised by Hopeful Christian for a job well done."

The hearing is to decide whether six women who worked at Gloriavale doing domestic duties are employees or volunteers.

Steadfast said she loves and respects the leaders, and has seen “the personal sacrifice they make on a daily basis to make sure our lives are safe and happy”.

“They do not personally benefit from being a leader. They go to their graves penniless yet surrounded in loved ones," she said.

Rachel Steadfast

“The reality is our leaders have given up all their worldly goods, their money, their inheritances and their very lives to make it possible for me to live the life I have chosen, without the stresses that some of my counterpart mothers outside the community are faced with daily.

“Our community is set up to support mothers and allow children to thrive and flourish. The inference that our leaders have intentionally exploited us is extremely offensive and false."

The hearing continues.