Source: The Press (New Zealand)
Publication date: 2002-08-03
Arrival time: 2002-08-04
The bizarre religious cult in Waipara that is now in tatters was once a thriving commune, members believing eccentric leader Douglas Metcalf was Jesus Christ.
When enigmatic, self- styled Bishop Douglas Metcalf dropped dead at his Camp David commune in Waipara, aged 68, some of his followers expected he would rise again in three days.
Like good apostles, they kept a 24-hour vigil over his body that lay in state at the cult’s headquarters in June 1989, watching for any signs of his resurrection.
Overhead clouds that gathered into a skull-like formation caused a flurry of excitement, but there was
no second coming of the charismatic man many took for Jesus Christ.
His successor and son-in-law Daryl Metcalf Williams carried on Metcalf’s teachings, preaching that his father-in- law would return to Earth before the year 2000.
That prophecy never eventuated either. By the turn of the century the commune founded by Metcalf, first, in Eureka Street, Aranui, and then on a Waipara farm in 1974, had all but collapsed.
The Full Gospel Mission, or God Squad as it became known, survived a blaze of publicity, following a police raid on the camp and members’ homes, which seized more than 150 weapons in 1977. It weathered the scorn of a rattled Waipara community, which feared a Waco-style siege was nigh, and a second police raid a decade on.
But its foundations collapsed six years ago during Williams’s stormy reign, when news emerged among disgruntled followers that the revered Metcalf was an adulterer who had slept with many women members.
Now a large group of 68 former members is battling a trust, headed by the latest leader Garry Love, to sell the 38-hectare property, worth $801,000, and gift the proceeds to charity.
How did Metcalf, with his passion for pageantry, pomp, and ceremony, dupe so many people into surrendering absolute power to him? What was life like behind Camp David’s fortress-like white walls for his dedicated band of followers?
From the six-bedroom home shared with his extended family, Metcalf lorded over his people in grand style. He was heralded by robed priests blowing on wild rams’ horns imported from Jericho at one notable festival, and his minions would spend days hand- stitching the royal regalia he wore.
While followers lived a subsistence lifestyle off the land, Metcalf’s minders would call over the two-way radio system for someone to pick up whipped cream for their strawberries.
Many devotees worked outside the farm, bringing in a healthy income which would bankroll Metcalf’s projects and regular trips to the Middle East. They would toil on the farm after work and attend marathon scripture meetings that stretched well into the night.
Former members say the community had an elite, trained commando unit, known as the Special Services Group, armed with the latest military equipment, including semi- automatic weapons.
Men were told to spend any spare money they had on stockpiling guns and ammunition.
Many converts found they had to forsake their real families when they joined the community.
Women were not allowed out to work and had to adhere to a strict dress code. As well as raising a family, Marie milked 10 goats twice a day, made cream and cheese, spun wool from the farm’s sheep, and cooked for the workers on two coal ranges.
Women had to wear long skirts, and a headscarf over their mandatory long hair as a sign of submission. Metcalf encouraged women to wear floral patterns and frills. “He wanted to look out among a sea of flowers,” says one woman, who we will call Melanie. Women were banned from wearing the royal colours of purple, red, and black, as well as pearl and gold jewellery. Men wore hats, similar to skullcaps, crocheted by their women.
Only after Metcalf’s death could people see the invasive power he assumed over their lives. Metcalf assigned converts new names on their arrival. He picked the date of their wedding, the gowns they would wear, and in some cases who they married. Marriages to outsiders were frowned upon, unless the partner also converted. Sex was banned on Tuesdays in preparation for holy communion the next night.
Metcalf, a naturopath, used doctors only as a last resort. Exorcisms were tried to rid the sick of their demons, even when conditions were potentially life-threatening.
“You would consult Doug (Metcalf) about everything. We would even ask if we could have more children,” says Melanie.
Followers were shunned, a status called “out the monk”, if they railed against the establishment. One woman, Patricia, and her scholarly husband were banished after 18 years in the commune, after he dared criticise Metcalf’s interpretation of scriptures. Their two young adult daughters stayed on and they lost touch with them for 11 years.
The “persecution” of police raids and resulting media coverage was seen as a sign the sect was on the right track, unlike others.
Members sniffed at a rival cult, the Cust Christian Community, which hogged headlines in the mid-90s, when its leader, Hopeful Christian, was busted and jailed for indecent assault.
“We thought they were a real weird bunch,” says Melanie. “We weren’t weird.”
Religious superstition and fear, reinforced by the leaders, kept members bound to the faith.
Respect for Metcalf evaporated six years after his death, when a woman follower revealed he had been leading a life of deception and cheating on his marriage.
A search of camp buildings by two suspecting women discovered an elaborate network of secret passages and rooms built behind internal walls. They found a room with a sofa bed, a bathroom, and escape routes for people to move between buildings unseen.
After Metcalf’s death, his son-in-law ran the farm to a strict regime until 1995, when his power base collapsed.
Former members want the farm sold.
The property, with its dilapidated empty buses, overgrown gardens, and faded religious icons, is still home to a handful who want to remain.
When Garry Love, who runs Eagle Engineering on-site, allegedly tried to sack four of six trustees, former members rallied.
They fear two obscure Christian groups from Hokitika and Nelson may be trying to take over the ruins of Camp David and reap the rewards of their labours.
Marie Squires organised a petition, signed by 68 former members, calling for a barrister to make a court application to sell the fellowship’s assets, including a 162ha block of land in Murchison.
They expected a battle, but on Wednesday night all six trustees agreed to put the trust’s fortunes in the hands of a barrister.