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 most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

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

Wednesday, December 31, 1986

December 1986 Notes

December 26:
The San Francisco Chronicle features a review of the Fellowship of Friends performance of “Antigone.” Mostly, it's a collection of the writer’s observations of Renaissance. Not negative, but somewhat critical of the Fellowship's isolationism.
December 31:
Newest addition to the Lincoln Lodge: "The Cockatoo Pub." Free beer is served today. College football games on TV.

At the Town Hall (later, Apollo Festival Hall): “Antigone” is performed.

Friday, December 26, 1986

An Unlikely Art Colony

[Ed. - The original article was accompanied by three photos by Alex Clausen. Not included here is a photo with the caption, "A winery is under construction for the community's own label." Images below are photographs of photocopies of microfilm images of the original newspaper article. Thus the poor quality.]

Curator Brian Flynn in the Goethe Academy at the Fellowship of Friends community of Renaissance

An Unlikely Art Colony

Commune in the Sierra foothills

San Francisco Chronicle
by Steven Winn

Marysville, Yuba County

Standing among the silk rugs and the 17th century paintings and (?) century Chinese temple vases in the Goethe Academy's main salon after a performance of "Antigone," a newcomer to Renaissance tends to be greeted in one of two ways.

"Pretty surprised to find all this out here, aren't you?" someone might ask. Or, with an offer to refill your champagne flute, a member of the host Fellowship of Friends will remark, "You look awfully familiar. I'm sure we've met somewhere."

It would be difficult, after a daylong visit here, to disagree with the local boosterish sentiments implied in the first question. A shared sense of familiarity, however, doesn't come quite so easily.

This 250-member community called Renaissance is located in the Sierra foothills 25 miles northeast of Marysville. In addition to the Goethe Academy, with its Ionic columns out front, a formal French garden in the rear and a cherry-paneled library, art collection and formal dining room inside, Renaissance includes 365 acres of terraced vineyards, 30 acres of orchards, wood and metal shops, a Town Hall for meetings and performances and a lodge.

Incongruities abound. At the entrance to the Court of the Caravans, a modest little village of 24 Airstream trailers that houses some of the Fellowship members, a classical bronze sculpture gleams in a spotlight. The winery under construction on a hillside nearby has been designed and built entirely by Fellowship members, most of them without any previous experience. The Fellowship hopes to begin marketing its own wine, under the Renaissance label, some time in the next several years.

If all this civilization at the snap of a finger seems a little unlikely to the outsider - Renaissance was founded 16 years ago by a Walnut Creek schoolteacher and tennis instructor named Robert Burton who had read a lot of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky - Fellowship members accept it as the natural outgrowth of a spiritual and philosophical system that mandates excellence in all pursuits, regardless of their novelty to the practitioner.

Michael Goodwin is a European-trained musician who gave up his career as a conductor and vocal coach in German opera houses to direct the Renaissance Orchestra. Most of the members had never played an instrument until five years ago. The orchestra is currently rehearsing the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto for a performance here with the Beaux Arts Trio's Menahem Pressler as soloist.

"Negativity is destructive," says Goodwin. "We are trying to be aware of ourselves in the most complete way possible for as much of the time as we can."

There may be another community in California where the arts and some greater good are this closely identified, but it's hard to imagine a group of people being more single-minded about it than the Fellowship of Friends. Renaissance is the "heart" of the 1400-member worldwide Fellowship, with more than 20 other "centres" scattered around Western Europe and elsewhere.

Despite the evident sincerity of the members, who often describe lengthy quests for spirituality in their lives before abandoning other pursuits to live and work at Renaissance, they have not been entirely successful in communicating their aims to the outside world.

Several years ago there was a heated battle with the IRS over the group's tax status. "We are a church," as one member diplomatically explains the outcome, "in the eyes of the government." Publicity over the purchase of a new sculpture stirred up more talk of "devil worship" in Marysville a while back. And even some of the members betray a certain amount of dissonance about Renaissance.

"It does seem a little funny to me," says an actor/orchardist, "that I've ended up at this 60ish kind of commune."

Part of the problem in getting a handle on what this arts-oriented community is all about had to do with a certain closed-door attitude about all the creativity that goes on here in the first place.

Most of the recitals, concerts and even the full-length opera performances are open to Fellowship members only. Gorgeous letter-press programs, like most of the other publications issuing from the Renaissance print shop, are rarely seen by the public. The Goethe Academy's art collection, which includes a 15th century Florentine tempera by Jacobo de Sellajo and a still life tentatively attributed to Caravaggio by one scholar, is open to the public "by appointment" on Mondays and Tuesdays only.

The current public performances of Sophocles' "Antigone," then, represent an unusual Christmas-week outpouring at Renaissance. The production opened Tuesday and ran through yesterday and continues January 1-3.

As theater, this "Antigone" approximates what one might expect to find on a college campus, with a few adept or somewhat rusty professors joining forces with a company of students of widely differing abilities. Robert Taylor is an icily focused Creon. James Broadfield delivers a compelling, reeling panic.

Maria Machado, a German-born Greek stage and film actress who is a member of the Paris Fellowship Centre, seems to be in another production, if not in some sort of internal Antigone trance, with a slowly quavering voice, ponderous step and rabbity eye movements.

The costumes - Nette Ornbak's classical draperies set off by a ravishing mottled cape for Teiresias - and bronzed masks (by Sonia Stefani and Stephen Merryweather) are splendid.

Beyond the artistry or its limitations, there was a special air about Tuesday's performance - an odd stillness in the audience before the show, a strange discontinuity of styles and effects on stage and perhaps most striking of all, a kind of seamless unselfconscious poise among the performers at even the most feeble points in the staging.

In a printed interview, co-director William Page observed, "It is clear that we have a certain affinity of interest with the Greeks. This is what the Fellowship audience can understand, and what a Fellowship group of actors can portray that no other modern company can portray: the living idea of a man having a relationship with the gods, with all that it implies."

Fellowship members stoutly deny that their community is one of retreat or withdrawal. "If you can't survive in the world," one of them said, "then you can't survive." Others muse about the possibility of outdoor summer theater festivals at Renaissance someday.

For now, the preoccupation with the arts here seems a curiously enclosed affair. Beauty, at Renaissance, is in the eyes of a handful of beholders.

Public performances of Sophocles 'Antigone' are being held in the Town Hall.

Monday, December 1, 1986

Body Types: The Enneagram and Essence Types

Body Types: The Enneagram and Essence Types, written by Fellowship of Friends member Joel Friedlander, is published by Globe Press Books.

It presents a human classification system based upon the enneagram, a symbol representing the planetary influences acting upon the human endocrine system, and the concept of "four centers." Adapted from the work of Gurdjieff and embellished by Burton and his followers, from the early 1970s this system was presented to prospective members during introductory meetings.

Monday, September 22, 1986

The New Yorker reports on Rajneeshpuram

The New Yorker publishes a two-part series about Rajneeshpuram, a commune in Central Oregon led by the Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as "Osho").

Comparisons had been made for years, but this publication brought the case home. The similarities between Rajneeshpuram and Renaissance cause some members to seriously question whether The Fellowship of Friends is indeed a cult.

Part 1 (Abstract)
Part 2 (Abstract)

Sunday, August 31, 1986

August 1986 Notes

Robert Earl Burton's Fellowship of Friends Renaissance Winery July 1986
Renaissance Winery sits atop the Winery Knoll, July 1986 (Photo: T. Campion)

August 27:
Harvest on the Meadows Knoll, picking Cabernet . Halted around 5:00, with about 30 tons harvested.
At winery, walls two sections tall encircle the ring of tanks. The dome is gone and a temporary roof covers the fermentation level.
August 28:
Harvest interrupted. The grapes are not ready for picking.

Thursday, July 31, 1986

July 1986 Notes

July 25th - Reception for Robert Burton at Chautauqua House (Pacific Palisades, CA)

Wednesday, July 16, 1986

The Friends of the Goethe Academy

The Goethe Academy (later know as the Galleria, or Gallery) serves as Robert Burton's residence

[ed. - The Friends of the Goethe Academy is one of numerous 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations The Fellowship of Friends uses to improve cash flow. Presumably, it was originally intended to promote the Fellowship's private art gallery. In recent years, the non-profit was registered as The Friends of the Goethe Academy dba Apollo Arts, and the business mission was restated as, 
"Our mission is to present the finest works of the classical repertoire in opera, music, theatre and dance to audiences in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California."
It is unclear if those audiences are limited to members or include the public as well.]

April 2014 capture from the California Secretary of State website:
Entity Number:C1537303
Date Filed:07/16/1986
Entity Address:PO BOX 998
Entity City, State, Zip:OREGON HOUSE CA 95962
Agent for Service of Process:PAUL M CHARPENTIER
Agent Address:12898 D RICES CROSSING ROAD
Agent City, State, Zip:OREGON HOUSE CA 95962

PO BOX 606

07/23/2009 Secretary of State Reviver
07/09/2009 Franchise Tax Board Restoration
07/09/2009 Franchise Tax Board Restoration PROC 7-9-09
07/09/2009 Franchise Tax Board Suspension
07/09/2009 Franchise Tax Board Suspension
07/09/2009 Secretary of State Reviver
07/09/2009 Secretary of State Suspension
07/09/2009 Secretary of State Suspension

See IRS Form 990-EZ filings.

Employer Identification Number (EIN): 943020954
Name of Organization Friends: Of The Goethe Academy
Address: PO BOX 998, Oregon House, CA 95962-0998
Activities: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.
Subsection: Charitable Organization
Ruling Date: 11/1992
Deductibility: Contributions are deductible
Foundation Organization which receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or the general public
Organization: Corporation
Exempt Organization Status: Unconditional Exemption
Tax Period: 12/2012
Assets: $100,000 to $499,999
Income: $100,000 to $499,999
Filing Requirement: 990 (all other) or 990EZ return
Asset Amount: $101,520
Amount of Income: $103,222
Form 990 Revenue Amount: $103,222

Total revenue: $65,937
Contributions, gifts, grants, and similar amounts received: $22,519
Program service revenue including government fees and contracts: $42,146
Membership dues and assessments: $0
Investment income: $1,272
Gain from sale of assets other than inventory: $0
Net income from gaming and fundraising events: $0
Gross profit from sales of inventory: $0
Other revenue: $0
Total expenses: $77,811
Total net assets: $114,648
Deficit for the year: $-11,874
Net assets or fund balances at beginning of year: $126,522
Other changes in net assets or fund balances: $0
Balance Sheets (for 2011):
Total assets: $114,648
Total liabilities: $0
Net assets or fund balances: $114,648
Other Information (for 2011)
Did the organization have unrelated business gross income of $1,000 or more during the year from business activities: No
Initiation fees and capital contributions: $0
Gross receipts for public use of club facilities: $0
Reason for Public Charity Status (for 2011):
The organization is not a private foundation because it is: An organization that normally receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public described in section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi)
Support Schedule for Organizations Described in Sections 170(b)(1)(A)(iv) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) (for 2011)
2007 - 2011 Total
Total Support: $228,759
Gifts, grants, contributions, and membership fees received: $228,759
Tax revenues levied for the organization's benefit and either paid to or expended on its behalf: $0
The value of services or facilities furnished by a governmental unit to the organization without charge: $0
Gross income from interest, dividends, payments received on securities loans, rents, royalties and income from similar sources: $0
Gross receipts from related activities, etc.: $0

Saturday, May 31, 1986

May 1986 Notes

Party atop barrel room at Fellowship of Friends Renaissance Winery
Party atop Renaissance Winery's barrel room

May 23:
Nicholas Spaulding's "Comet Relief" show at the Renaissance Town Hall. [ed. - Nick would later take his show on the road.]
May 24:
Memorial Day Weekend Party at the Renaissance Winery (atop the barrel room)
May 25:
Children's Picnic at the Shakespeare Cottage in Oregon House

Wednesday, April 30, 1986

April 1986 Notes

Robert Earl Burton's Fellowship of Friends cult Renaissance Winery under construction
Having served its purpose, the winery Thermaldome was dismantled and sold. Photo circa December 1985.

[ed. - During the 1980s, the "Fellowship Forum" was a monthly or bi-monthly publication for Fellowship members. It featured discussions on relevant "spiritual" topics, book reviews, wine reviews, and classified ads. It was at various times edited by Linda Levin (aka Kaplan, Tulisso, Rockwood), Girard Haven, and Barbara Haven.]

As reported in the "Fellowship Forum":
The Thermaldome, which has house the Renaissance winery crush and fermentation production area since 1978 is listed for sale.

Old World Bricks, Inc., a private business owned and operated by members of the Fellowship, is looking for hard-working men to fill positions at its brickyard near Renaissance. Production is to start in May.

(Wage: $6.50/hour.Must be U.S. citizens or hold "green cards")

Friday, January 31, 1986

January 1986 Notes

January 1:
At the winery, the first wall is being erected around dome. "The 1985 Fume is showing great promise - delicious. The 1985 Cabernet shows very Bordeaux-like qualities, young and hard, but with underlying elegance."

New tennis courts are now in use (in the Whitman Glen.)

Renaissance Vineyard and Winery labels are now in the design stage.

A prospect list of "connoisseurs" is being developed for future wine marketing efforts.
[ed. - Inspired to submit label ideas, I suggested the following (no doubt influenced by Callaway's early label designs.) The submissions were politely rejected.]

Wednesday, January 1, 1986

The Canons of the Fellowship of Friends

The Canons of The Fellowship of Friends
The Canons of The Fellowship of Friends title page, December 2009

[ed. - The 52-page "The Canons of The Fellowship of Friends, January 1, 1986" is prefaced by statements of principles from the Fourth Way and from the Gospels. The role of the "Founding Minister" is described in part: "The Fellowship recognizes both the spiritual primacy of the teacher and his mediatorship by virtue of which Higher Forces reveal their will regarding the Fellowship principally through him." In posting this document on the Internet Archive, the contributor wrote:
"The Canons of the Fellowship of Friends, January 1, 1986. This document was attached to documents filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Yuba and was obtained from a search of the public record. It is in the public domain."

 See also the 31-page December 12, 2009 version of The Canons.]


Excerpts from the 1986 Canons:

From Chapter 1, Canon 1.1:

The Fellowship of Friends teaches that the universe comprises a hierarchy of worlds governed by orders of laws, that Higher Forces created the world and humanity and in various times and places select certain men to evolve both by grace and their own efforts to the level of immortal beings, and that Higher Forces establish schools on earth whereby selected men may evolve and humanity may be civilized. The Fellowship further teaches that Higher Forces have founded the Fellowship, that Conscious Beings guide and sustain this Church and its members, and intend it to serve as an ark to survive the collapse of civilization at the end of this age.

From Chapter 1, Canon 1.5:
In the Fellowship, the use of the arts is an exercise in the development of emotional sensitivity and directed attention, by which the student approaches Beauty, which along with Goodness and Truth forms the trinity of divine ideals as taught by Plato. In the words of the Teacher, "Beauty creates its likeness in those who pursue it."

[ed. - It appears Robert Burton has passionately pursued beauty (in all its physical forms), while giving less attention to the Goodness and Truth ideals of Plato's trinity.]