Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970.

Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws on official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Monday, October 1, 1979

Life in the Chicago "teaching house"

[ed. - These reminiscences have been inserted in the timeline approximately when the events described took place.]

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 31, 2015:
Re: #28 “Denial of Death” article

In the fall of 1979, I was asked to move from Santa Barbara to the Chicago center, located in the small town of Ravinia, on the shore of Lake Michigan. I still remember that time in vivid flashes, now and again.

The house was spectacular, a grand old midwestern mansion with a formal dining room, gigantic kitchen, a grand staircase, library, servant’s quarters and attic. There was a vast basement with ancient plumbing and a decrepit heater that barely kept the place warm, consuming oil by the truckload (steam heat). One poor student’s sleeping quarters were down there, near the noisy beast!

The rest of us were crammed into every habitable nook and cranny of the house, from the attic to the servant’s quarters. My assigned room when I arrived was an upstairs “sun porch,” no doubt fine in summer, but a barren icebox in winter. After toughing it out for a few weeks, I begged for another room, and was offered the floor of a very large closet in the master suite’s dressing area. I gratefully unrolled my sleeping bag there each night for the duration of my stay.

Not that any of us had much time for sleeping. Most of us were working two jobs to meet the rent, utilities, food and teaching payments, as well as paying for elaborate “traveling teacher” dinners and other incidentals that arose. In the cold early mornings, some of us would walk to the train station and ride into Chicago together, often meeting up again late that night for the trip home.

I remember one train ride in particular, at the end of a long day’s work at my two jobs, as a proofreader at Ernst & Whinney, followed by a part-time night job at Northern Trust Bank, typing crop reports. I had brought a book to read with me on the train, probably inspired by one of the little “daily cards,” bearing a quotation from a “conscious being,” that were given out each week.

My book was Plato’s Five Great Dialogues, and I was reading “Phaedo.” I remember having the sensation of my mind being drawn up into a higher plane of thought, feeling the clarity and power of the ancient philosopher’s words reaching me across time and space. The existence of the soul was assumed. The light of the mind was self-evident. I felt the connection. At the time I considered it a “higher state,” and I still do.

So there’s a little gratitude story here, one of the finer moments in my life that happened as a result of the efforts of my fellow friends in the ‘ship…the ones who typeset and printed those daily cards on the hand presses, the ones who established the far-flung teaching houses and worked to “create memory” for each other, who walked with me along the snow covered streets of Ravinia in the deep winter nights….a reminiscence sing.

"Cathie L." added, June 1, 2015:
"I don’t remember doing much else in Chicago besides work and sleep. Museum trips? Socializing with my fellow “slaving overpaying cult members”? Sure, probably. I was only there for one winter, then it was back to California to join the slaving, practically unpaid cult members in the Renaissance office."

"Pastor Yorick" replied on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 1, 2015:
32. Kathie L. [sic](above) I guess I just missed meeting you. I moved from the Chicago Centre to CA in the summer of 1979 at the same time the Centre moved from the Glencoe house to the mansion you describe. At the Glencoe house, which was right next to Lake Michigan, several of the men had to stay on a porch on the Lake side of the house through the winter, including me. We had to buy cardboard “wardrobes” to hang up our clothing. It was freezing! Though such things weren’t shared with most of the students living there, I suppose that we were evicted from the Glencoe house once the owner/landlord discovered that something was “fishy” there. (I don’t know this for certain.) Abe G. [Abraham Goldman] and the female centre director, pretending to be a wealthy couple, met the prospective new landlords and arranged for the new rental. Intentional insincerity. I don’t know why I put up with so many things that went against so completely my grain and my upbringing for as long as I did. I think it was due to the quite sophisticated brainwashing that was going on.

"Parson Yorick" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 27, 2015:
When I left, first I moved out of the “Teaching House” where I was living, and then I stopped making “Teaching Payments.” I kept my job with Pacific Bell and moved into an apartment with a co-worker whose wife had recently left him. Soon the reason for her leaving him became pretty clear; this co-worker of mine was a gun buff and an alcoholic. Not a real good combo, but at least he had no connection with the FOF. A FOF “student” whom I respected and trusted arranged to meet me at a coffehouse in the Pruneyard shopping center and we discussed my intention to “leave the school.” That was about 4 1/2 years after I’d joined and it was my last official contact with the FOF. A few months later I was promoted at work and got a hefty (50%) raise. The new problem became what to do with all the extra time and money. For a while my solution was to spend more of both in various Los Gatos bars. I had a few interesting chance encounters with other former students and attended one “reunion” type gathering. Then I mostly ignored the FOF until a couple of years ago. I noticed that Abe Goldman (whom I’d known in the Chicago Centre) was listed as deceased on the State Bar website, so that aroused my curiosity. I also learned from a musicians’ website that Michael Goodwin had died in an auto accident. I began looking around on the internet to find out what the hell was going on. That is when I found this and other blogs. I feel quite fortunate that I never went on staff at Renaissance. I don’t think I ever realized how bad conditions were for the people there.

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