He became a reverend in 2006.
It’s a job he does for the people.
But Greg Koroheke’s life before faith was less than holy.

Greg Koroheke sits on a wooden porch with chipped brown paint.

He's dressed in a black leather vest. In his left hand is a rollie scavenged from leftover butts of Park Drive tobacco. In his right hand, he swigs from a bottle of Waikato Draught. It's 10am and it's his third beer of the day.

Greg watches busloads of men, women and children in their flash clothes pull up at the large weatherboard building across the road.

Right on schedule, he says.

He takes another swig of beer. His eyes follow them from the bus, up the crooked path with weeds seeping from the cracks and into the front of the building. The groups disappear for an hour, sometimes two. He wonders what they do in there.

He crosses the road and strays to the edge of the path, as he has done several times before. His heart starts thumping and he turns around before someone sees him. Walking through the door is scary, so Greg retreats to the comfort of the Mob pad. He takes an empty Waikato Draught from the crate and uses it to crack open another full one.

He takes a swig. Maybe next week, he says to himself.

The building across the street is similar to the one Greg and his members occupy. Both buildings are made of weatherboard, both are places where large groups of people gather and both are places of worship.

Hemi Tapu, home of the Maori Anglican Mission in Hamilton.

Hemi Tapu, home of the Maori Anglican Mission in Hamilton.

But one is a gang pad, home to the Waikato chapter of the Mongrel Mob, and the other, Hemi Tapu, is the home of the Māori Anglican Mission in Hamilton.

And Greg's "riches" have the words "Mongrel Mob Waikato" and an English bulldog on the back.

The Hemi Tapu (St James) church is over 100 years old. It was originally a Methodist church and served the Hamilton suburb of Frankton. It was purchased by Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa (The Māori Anglican Church) in early 1980, around the same time Greg joined the Mob.

The Mobsters offered their support to the church. They would scrub out the pad so visiting church members had a place to sleep if they needed one and they would offer pots of kai.

It was drugs, drink and violence back in the 1980s. It was a blessing to have the church move in across the road, Greg says.

He didn't realise at the time, but the arrival of the Māori Anglicans to Frankton was the start of Greg's life as a man of a different cloth.

“All I ever knew was gang members”

Greg was born to George and Te Tangiamio Koroheke in 1950.

He was the youngest of their 14 children. All four boys joined the Mob and Greg's twin brother, Richard Koroheke, was the captain of the King Country Mongrel Mob until his death in 2014.

It was the way of life for boys from Hangatiki, a small rural town in the Otorohanga District. If you didn't have work or have an education, you joined the Mob.

"My life was rugged. My mum died when I was five and we slept on dirt floors … I never had the touch of a mother, I never felt that," Greg says.

"Just about everybody in our age group did farm work. We shore sheep, we worked in shearing sheds and haymaking.

“We were all in the Mob down at King Country.”

"It was only when I moved up here to Hamilton that I joined our local chapter. All I ever knew was gang members, Mob members. We would drink all day, there was a lot of violence …"

Greg moved to Hamilton in 1965. He spent, collectively, four years in prison for drink-driving and burglary. After his last stint in jail in the 1970s, he joined the army and worked as a gunner. In 1980, he worked for a Waikato bitumen company before the work ran out and he was laid off.

"Then we just came and sat at the pad every day, every minute, every hour … drinking, drugs.

"That was my life."

Greg has RAT tattooed on his right hand. He was practising his tattooing while he was in prison. He has Mongrel Mob Waikato and a bulldog tattooed on his right upper arm. But, unlike many other members, his skin is otherwise clean of gang ink.

“Many people saw me as a Mongrel Mob. They didn’t see me as a church, as a Christian.”

The pad moved to Pukete in the 1990s. But by then, Greg had found, what he says, was his purpose in life.

"I finally made it through the front door. I actually followed this old lady in. I said, Whoa, she's not going to stop. She went right up to the front row," he says.

"There was an Archdeacon - Eru Beattie. He saw me at church … and for months I had my head down and he was so gentle with me. I wouldn't even go for a cuppa tea because I thought I wasn't accepted. But I thought, well no, God accepts anyone, anyhow.

"I kept coming back and then they gave me a reading to do. After that I carried on.

"My wife, Jocelyn, saw the changes coming. I stopped drinking, stopped smoking, stopped going to the pad all the time," he says.

"I let her know where I was going, I never did that before. Even my kids said, 'You're changing, Dad. What's up?'

“I said, ‘Nothing - I’m just going to church on Sundays.’ ”

Greg's eldest son is a Mongrel Mob member and is in prison. His other two children attend the odd service. He would like them to attend full time - that's the hope.

In the early 2000s, Greg told the members of his chapter that he would be committing his time to another code - the Lord. And although surprised, they were supportive.

It was others who cast their judgment. Greg says he copped more flak from the community for wearing a white collar than he did when he wore a red patch.

"Many people saw me as a Mongrel Mob, they didn't see me as a church, as a Christian. They saw me as a Mongrel Mob.

"It was hard for me, but I knew I was on a different journey. I wasn't on a Mongrel Mob waka, I was on the Lord's waka. I feel proud as if I'm Arnold Schwarzenegger and all my muscles have gone big, but that's the way I felt and that's the way I still feel today, because I know my chapter is there for me and I'm there for them.

“I got [verbally] abused the whole time, for 10 years.”

"The [public] saw me in that role as a Mongrel Mob and and then they see me in this role [as a reverend].

"I would take the abuse and say, 'Bro, one day I'm going to come to you in your time of need and I won't abandon you.' And that's often what happens. I've attended tangihanga [funerals] for people that were quick to judge and they then come and apologise to me.

"Because you push the collar back and I'm myself again. I go down to the market on Saturdays and I'm in a T-shirt and shorts and they respect me. They say they can see the collar around my neck and that makes me happy."

It’s December 13, 2016.

The black and red patches are out in full force. Hundreds have already arrived at a converted barn in Ngāruawāhia. Mongrel Mob paintings adorn the walls. Each painting represents a chapter from around the Waikato. There are 10 all up. Some members are directing traffic and parking. Some are readying the lunchtime feast for the manuhiri [guests], others are organising the entertainment.

Greg, who is now 66 and an associate priest at his church, arrives in his riches - a velvet patch he wears for special occasions - worn under his robe. Old-school Mob members, such as Greg, sometimes refer to their patches as their riches. The patch signifies a code of values. The word riches refers to being rich in the understanding of one's whakapapa and in understanding what it is you wear and why. He wears his when he attends Mob functions - including tangihanga - out of respect.

It's a normal day for most, but for the Waikato Mongrel Mob, the 13th of every month is celebrated. It's a day to celebrate Mongrelism. That includes family, friends and health.

Matua Greg, as some of the younger members refer to him, plays an important role in this 13th celebration. He's there to bless the korowai - the patches for the new members of the Mongrel Mob.

Greg opens the celebration with a karakia. He says the Mongrel Mob movement is not just physical, it's also spiritual.

"Hearty matua," one Mobster says to Greg. "Aurah Uncle Greg," says another.

He says the Waikato Mongrel Mob have gone through many changes over the last few years.

“I see the younger members working - most of us never had jobs,” Greg says.

"I see [patched members] get educated. We have builders in this chapter, we have ones that run barbershops. I see them getting healthy, promoting health. I see the women integrated together - we never had that in my time. Women weren't allowed to go anywhere in the Mob."

More than two dozen receive their patches today. Some have travelled from as far as Palmerston North and Taupo. There's also another reason to celebrate: it's the 51st birthday of Waikato Mongrel Mob leader Sonny Fatupaito. Tribal Huk, King Cobra, Tribesmen and other Mongrel Mob chapters all join in the festivities.

Once the formalities are over, Greg removes his robe and shakes it out. He gently places it in the back of his car, tidies his riches and joins the others.

He is still actively involved in his chapter, just in a different way. Instead of bringing the booze, he brings the Bible. He's kept busy at Mob tangihanga and for Mob events where taonga have to be blessed, such as receiving a patch. He holds hui with new gang members and is on standby if any have questions about spirituality. He's there to listen and answer questions if he can - similar to what he does in his role at Hemi Tapu.

Greg says he does think about the likelihood of new members committing crimes in the patches he's just blessed.

"Back in the day we didn't care about our patches. We would [defecate] on them but times have changed … these patches are our taonga, they're blessings. So the purpose of blessing them is to show them from the start that these are to be cherished and it counts what you do when you wear them."

Some members have since followed Greg's path because he started something that they wanted to do - be part of the church but still remain a Mobster. Since he became a reverend 10 years ago, three Mongrel Mob members have also followed suit. One is a minister for the Ratana church, one is Catholic and one is Anglican - like Greg.

“I’m taking the Lord over to the pad every time I go back, but without the uniform, without the collar,” he says.

"So I'll take off my clothes and put on my riches and just sit there around the house, go up town, go for a drive … because it's me. I'm in that life again, but not how we used to be."

Greg prepares toast and a cup of tea for his wife, Jocelyn.

His mokomoko [great-grandchild] runs in to give him a kiss before he leaves for the morning.

Greg asks Jocelyn where his reading glasses are. He spends 15 minutes looking for them - they're on the windowsill, but he walks past them twice before he realises. Jocelyn gathers the himene book and Bible.

Greg and Jocelyn drive the 10 minutes from their home in Grandview to the weatherboard building in Frankton. Greg gets changed into his flash clothes. He walks up the freshly concreted path to the front of the building and stops at the door.

He's early. He turns to greet members of his church who have turned up in busloads.

Right on schedule, he says.

"At the church, it is different. I can revert back to the Mob life any time I want to. After I've finished at the church and I've done a few services, buried a few, done cremations, you want to go back. Just for peace. But I haven't finished yet," Greg says.

"My identity would be as a reverend. I'm for the people, for the people."

Words:Donna-Lee Biddle
Photos and video:Mark Taylor
Design & layout:John Harford