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.

Thursday, September 1, 1994

An attempt to quell rebellion

[ed. - This post is inserted into the timeline, roughly corresponding to the account's events.]

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 23, 2009:
In September 1994, [Fellowship of Friends President] Christina Bishop (as I knew her) [aka Kristina Nielsen] called me for a meeting about my activities. I suggested we meet for lunch at the Lodge, and took my tape-recorder, as was my habit in those days (I still have many tape cassettes, some of them now crumbling, from those last months).

Here is the heart of the conversation, with the numerous ‘ah’s, ‘umms’, partial sentences, interruptions, cross-talk and so forth of the actual conversation edited out.
C. “… I really want to know why you’re resisting so much. Robert has never personally harmed you, and swears that sex with Troy Buzbee was consensual and that he didn’t know he was under seventeen. So why are you pushing so hard? You’ll only have to leave, and you’ll lose everything.

A. This is pretty strange; you’re a representative of an organization that holds a central principle, “Verify everything, question everything”, and yet when I do, you react blindly to protect the organization’s identity, which in this case is Robert’s identity clothed with a few layers. So I’m not going to talk to you as a representative. I am willing to talk to you as an individual and on the basis of friendship. Do you want that?

C. Yes, I do. I’ve known you for sixteen years, and I feel that we are friends.

A. Well, I can’t say that, but there has always been that potential; we haven’t spent enough time to actualize it, that’s all. But I’ll talk to that potential. I’m acting now, publishing my newsletter, talking to people despite Robert’s demand to stop, because it’s the right thing for me to do at this time. I’m at the point where if I don’t act, my conscience will die. I’ve been burying it for sixteen years, and this is my last chance.

Look, I joined the school to develop my conscience, to learn the difference between morality as predicated by society, and my true internal guide, and I’ve found that I’ve actually joined an organization that preaches wakefulness and induces sleep. I have to take this chance, and I can no more help it than Robert can help trying to squash it. I feel I’ve woken up from a nightmare, I’m on the surface coming up for breath for the third time, and that what is happening will lead to my freedom. Robert can threaten that my soul will go to feed the moon, but he doesn’t know and can’t know. I’m taking back my power regardless of the consequences, and for me, this is being true to myself.

This is the most important thing in my life, and means more than life. It’s just the way I’m built. I can’t claim to be right, but neither can you or Robert. No one can know for me. I feel I’m a child of God, a particle of Source, and Robert has no place between me and God.

So, there it is, go and tell him that, if you dare! I honestly think he won’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about…”

I like to think that Christina appreciated this conversation (melodrama and all), but that is unknown. What I did hear is that when later she became director of the London center, she was asked for advice by a struggling student who was considering leaving the FoF. I was told that she answered that it was a matter of conscience, and that if the student’s conscience said it was better to leave, that was the correct course. This was reported to Burton, and he demanded that she and her co-director husband leave the FoF, which they did. She is dead now, but I hold her in my memory as one of the few honest, open, and decent ‘authority figures’ I knew in the FoF.

Renaissance Vineyard and Winery featured in Sunset Magazine

[ed. - This is an Internet Archive capture of the Fellowship of Friends webpage.]

The Fellowship of Friends
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Sunset Magazine 1994
Renaissance winery As you drive north on State Highway 99 through the Sacramento Valley, rice paddies give way to farms, which in turn segue into chaparral and then the foothills of the Sierra Nevada: a region of scrub oak, pine, manzanita, redwood, and not much else. As you twist east from Marysville along State 20, civilization intrudes only in the form of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Oregon House and, a few minutes later, the incongruous clearing that marks Renaissance Vineyard & Winery.
Renaissance is the only winery in Yuba County, and the only one anywhere in which the owners, a philosophical society known as the Fellowship of Friends, invested $16 million with absolutely no need to see an immediate return. The group’s 1,900 members, most of them wealthy devotees of Russian thinkers P. D. Ouspensky and George Gurdjieff, tithe 10 percent of their annual incomes to the organization and donate labor as well. The first grapes were planted in 1976, and after 12 years a product was finally marketed. The result? Awards poured in from around the globe.
The most prestigious awards were bestowed upon Renaissance’s 1985 Special Select Late Harvest Riesling - a devastatingly good dessert nectar that Gault Millau, one of Europe’s snootier wine journals, ranked among the world’s top 10 dessert wines.
Apart from imperceptible things like the various microclimates on the 1,700-acre property, you can get some intimation of how this came about by touring the facilities. The first thing you’ll notice are the vineyards, which spiral uphill on hand-tended terraces that were carved out of granite. The winery itself is a circular concrete structure three stories tall, two of them underground. Gleaming stainless steel fermentation tanks at the uppermost level feed 2,800 handmade oak barrels below and a bottling facility below that.
Other fruits of the fellowship’s labor include a Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, which houses the largest collection of Ming Dynasty furniture outside mainland China; a 250-seat theater, where a member-run symphony and choir perform; and a restaurant. All are open to the public.
Wines are available for sale at the tasting room for $8 to $20 a bottle. The 1985 Special Select Late Harvest Riesling sells for $15. (Prices are expected to go up slightly on September 1.)
The winery is at 12585 Rice’s Crossing Road in Oregon House, a 90-minute drive from Sacramento. Free tastings and tours are at 10:30 Wednesdays through Sundays, by appointment only, and can be arranged by calling (800) 655-3277. Lunch and dinner reservations can be made by calling (916) 692-2425.
David M. Roth

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RENAISSANCE VINEYARD & WINERY quietly produces one of the world’s top dessert wines from terraced slopes in the town of Oregon House.