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.

Friday, December 1, 1995

Masterpieces From the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture published

[ed. - Tenth Union International Inc. and Chinese Art Foundation appear to be entities set up by the Fellowship of Friends for the promotion and eventual sale of the collections housed in the Fellowship's Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture.]
Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture by Shixiang Wang. Published by Tenth Union International Inc.
ISBN: 1883662028

Tuesday, October 31, 1995

October 1995 Census

[ed. - An October 1995 roster of Fellowship of Friends members lists 1,756 active members and 5,212 inactive (former) members. The roster, however, is not a complete accounting of membership since the Fellowship's 1970 founding. Instead, its starting point is the membership as of Winter 1977-78 (likely when the roster was first loaded onto the Fellowship's new computer system.) With a few exceptions, it omits all those "inactive members" who left the Fellowship in the first seven years. 

The December 1977 "Renaissance Vine" reported a then-current membership of 1,055, so the Fellowship has had a net gain of about 700 in the intervening 18 years. (By 2005, the population would grow to about 2,200 before beginning to decline. In October 2016, the Fellowship will number just 1,565 members. This despite, or perhaps because of, the advent of the internet.)]

Saturday, September 30, 1995

Fellowship of Friends tax delinquency cited as largest in Yuba-Sutter counties

[ed. - Owing to millions of dollars paid in settlement of the Troy Buzbee lawsuit, the Fellowship was unable to pay Yuba County property taxes. (According to a statement jointly attributed to former Fellowship President Kristina Nielsen and former Renaissance Vineyard and Winery President James Tyndale-Biscoe, the Fellowship was not only unable, but was unwilling to pay the taxes, anticipating a reprieve in the form of Burton's long-predicted April 1998 Fall of California.

In typical Fellowship fashion, spokesperson Cynthia Hill is "intentionally insincere" (lies) and tells the reporter the crisis is due to winery "cash-flow difficulties."]

Excerpted from Marysville Yuba City Appeal-Democrat - September 30, 1995:

Jim Stevens, Sutter County's treasurer-tax collector, said the delinquency notices sent out by his office directly to taxpayers are more effective than spending a couple thousand dollars on newspaper ads.
"The only real purpose is it makes the public aware of properties that are in default," . Stevens said. "By chance, if the taxpayer looks at it, it notifies him as well."
Stevens said some taxpayers are worried about appearing on the list. "We have a few people that call in to try and find out what's owed to get it paid before it's published," he said. "It's a small percentage. It's a limited number of taxpayers who call in to avoid the publication."
Taxpayers have five years to make good on their delinquent accounts. They may take an additional four years if they agree during the initial five-year period to make payments as part of an installment plan.

The payments also must include accrued interest.

Statewide, 4.1 percent of secured property taxes - $930 million - was delinquent as of June 30, 1994, according to the state Controller's Office.

Yuba County had the fourth highest delinquency rate in the state at 7.3 percent, which amounted to about $1.6 million.

Sutter County matched the state average at 4.1 percent, or $1.5 million.

Sutter County's total secured property tax charge was $37.3 million, compared to Yuba County's $22 million.

Kennedy said Yuba County's delinquency rate has increased from 5.2 percent in 1991-92.

Most of the delinquent taxpayers owe just a few hundred dollars. Others owe sizable chunks.

The Fellowship of Friends in Oregon House had the highest tax delinquency in either county, owing about $166,000 as of June 30,1994.

Cynthia Hill, a Fellowship spokeswoman, said "cash-flow difficulties" at the Renaissance Vineyard & Winery caused the tax problems.

"The formula is simple: the more our winery earns, the more money goes to the state and county," she said. "We are working hard in both areas."

She said the fellowship paid about $2.8 million in property taxes on time between 1971 and 1993.

Although some taxpayers owe thousands of dollars and there were plenty of names listed -about 350 in Yuba County and 150 in Sutter County — it's rare when the counties don't collect the taxes eventually.

"In my 16-plus years, there's been three or four cases when we haven't gotten all our taxes," Kennedy said. "The amount is less than a thousand dollars total." In Sutter County since 1984, Stevens said, he's only had to sell two properties to recoup back taxes.

Monday, July 24, 1995

Tenth Union International Inc.

[ed. - Tenth Union International Inc. appears to have been set up by the Fellowship of Friends and its Taiwanese partners to support and promote the Fellowship's Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture in advance of its sale. Tenth Union published Masterpieces of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture. The corporation was later a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Abraham Goldman and The Fellowship of Friends.]
From the California Secretary of State site:

Entity Number:C1899037
Date Filed:07/24/1995
Entity Address:40701 TIRSO ST
Entity City, State, Zip:FREMONT CA 94539
Agent for Service of Process:CHI HSIU CHEN
Agent Address:40701 TIRSO ST
Agent City, State, Zip:FREMONT CA 94539

Chi Hsiu Chen is listed as President of Tenth Union Internation Inc.

Suspended: August 20, 1998

Wednesday, June 7, 1995

"Classical Chinese Tradition Exhibit Shows Furniture Arrangements at Home"

by Julie Look
Get a feeling for traditional Chinese households at "Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture," a nine-month exhibit opening today at the Pacific Heritage Museum in San Francisco.

About 90 pieces of hardwood furniture from the late Ming and early Qing dynasties (circa 1550- 1735 A.D.), and 70 pieces of tomb pottery furniture from the early- to mid-Ming period are on display. (Pictured is an incense stand with "dragonfly" legs.)

Until recently, the collection was housed by the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture in Oregon House, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Members of San Francisco's Chinese community worked with the museum to help give the collection a wider audience, says curator Curtis Evarts.

At the Pacific Heritage Museum, the furniture is grouped to indicate its use in typical rooms: For example, one grouping shows a Chinese scholar's bedroom, with a daybed, small cabinet, clothes rack and washbasin.
"We designed the room after a late Ming scholar's dissertation on how the room should be appointed," says Evarts. The scholar wrote that the room's pieces should be plain and simple, not ornate as they would be in a lady's bedroom.
Visitors can also enjoy free wine-tasting next door offered by Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, operated by the Fellowship of Friends, which owns the furniture collection.

The classical Chinese furniture exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, through March 1996, at the Pacific Heritage Museum, 608 Commercial Street (at Montgomery Street). Admission is free. Information, (415) 399-1124.

Sunday, May 28, 1995

Former Fellowship members hold peaceful picnic at Lake Francis

Stella Wirk, Doris and Don Birrell, Harold Wirk. Photo credit: Unknown

Published in the Marysville-Yuba City Appeal Democrat, May 28, 1995:
[Photo caption: Former Fellowship of Friends member Susan Lightwater removes a plaster mask which her husband, Duane, made at an ex-member reunion picnic Saturday at Lake Francis. (Dobbins, CA)]

There were grandmothers with family albums, kids eating hot dogs and a couple napping by the river at the Lake Francis Resort in Dobbins Saturday.

But on the bulletin board was a letter by attorney Abraham Goldman to Yuba County Sheriff Gary Tindel about the four-day gathering of the "Greater Fellowship."

The letter says the Fellowship of Friends is not responsible for any violence or drugs at the gathering of the former members who call themselves the "Greater Fellowship."

About 100 former members, mostly middle-aged and older, who joined the Fellowship during the 1970s, started their first local reunion Friday. It continues through Monday.

The former members chose to post Goldman's letter and an anonymous lawsuit he's filed, which two former members say targets as a discussion format for what they say have been false insinuations of criminal activity.

"The Fellowship disclaims all responsibility for this event," Goldman wrote Tindel.

"As you know, the Fellowship has strict policies prohibiting among other things, the use of drugs and violence. We don't mean to imply that anything of this nature will occur, only that nothing that occurs at this event should be construed in [such a] way [as] to be connected with the Fellowship of Friends."

Former member Steven Englander of Marin, who left the group in 1985, said he didn't mind if the sheriff wanted to check on the picnic, but said he did mind what he saw as Goldman's insinuations.

"This is an insidious and somewhat transparent attempt to cast aspersions on this gathering," Englander said.

Goldman said the letter was not aimed at former members, but came because of worries about unrelated attacks on the Fellowship.

"Over the last two years, the Fellowship has been unjustly accused by the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly and slandered repeatedly that we are involved in drugs and violence," Goldman said in an interview.

"We have been using the name Fellowship of Friends for 25 years. We just wanted to make it known that when anybody is using the same name as ours, clearly known, there was no association with us," Goldman

Tindel said, "To me it was just a courtesy letter letting us know there was going to be a gathering up there and there wasn't expected to be any problems with either group."

"And there haven't been, as far as I know," Tindel said Saturday night, as he was cooking dinner for the Marysville Chiefs.

Posted near the letter at the resort was the lawsuit, which accuses unidentified former members of an anonymous religious organization of illegally conspiring to bring it down.

The former Fellowship members found that Goldman's filing substitutes the word "Fellowship"
 for ABC" in one spot, making the filing less than anonymous.

Several legal experts interviewed last week were baffled by the all anonymous filing. Former member Jim Irving of Benicia said the slip-up shows just how silly the entire suit is.

"It shows how this all was a sham to begin with," Irving said.

Goldman said he couldn't comment on the suit, but said the lawsuit speaks itself.

The former members said they chose to gather locally for the first time to show they had outgrown the once-tight grip the Fellowship held on them.

"It's very hard to leave," said UC Davis law student Max Taylor.

"You are told that those who leave have no more spiritual possibilities, and members are told not to talk to ex-members. That's why gatherings like this are important."

Greater Fellowship members said they also hoped to get the chance to talk to current members, but were disappointed only two had shown up by Saturday afternoon.

After reading the lawsuit and the letter addressed to Tindel, several said that they were more glad than ever they had decided to leave the group.

"It's too ridiculous to get upset about," said former member Ramona Merryweather, after reading the letter.

Many of the former members say they continue to follow the 4th Way as members of a loosely connected group called the Greater Fellowship.

Many said the suit and letter brought back memories of the control they felt while they were members of the Fellowship of Friends.

"This is a disturbing letter. We have a right to gather and we have our right to the 4th Way," said Bobie Lyras of Scottsdale, Ariz.

The former members held picnics, games and talked about the 4th Way, the teachings of two Russian philosophers on which the Fellowship is founded.

Doris Burrell [sic] said she helped Fellowship of Friends founder Robert Burton find the property in Yuba County and still believes in the 4th Way, but left after 23 years in January.

Burrell, of Vacaville, was married in the Fellowship and said Burton accompanied the couple on their honeymoon.

"We didn't mind, we loved Robert at that time," Burrell said.

"He has been a wonderful friend to us and he taught us many wonderful principles," Burrell said.

She said the couple left after believing Burton changed his teachings.

"He was no longer giving us anything to grow on. He was talking about the end of the world," Burrell said.

Goldman and Fellowship spokeswoman Cynthia Hill say that the Fellowship never puts pressure on people to join or pursues ex-members who leave. While Burton does make predictions, these are not seen as central to Fellowship doctrine, Hill said.

Burrell said other ex-members also worried Saturday that the group they once loved may be in financial trouble.

The Fellowship of Friends has not paid property taxes since fall of 1993, according to Yuba County records.

That puts the corporation $402,000 behind on tax bills, for which it will have to pay late penalties, under state law.

The Fellowship has tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service for income taxes but not from Yuba County for property taxes.

Goldman said he has been told the Fellowship will begin paying the property taxes on a payment plan, as allowed by state law.

"The Renaissance Vineyard Winery is making a nice turn-around now and substantial progress is being made," Goldman said.

Former member Greg Wenneson of Sonoma said the secret nature of the Fellowship and all the controversy that has often surrounded the group makes the group seem more dramatic and exciting than it is. He said if people would realize that, they wouldn't worry about leaving.

"The most insidious thing about the Fellowship of Friends [insinuations] is there is nothing hidden, Wenneson said. "There is no conspiracy by former members."

"What you see here is pretty much what it is, a bunch of old farts getting together to have a few beers and talk about life."

Thursday, May 25, 1995

Lawyer says suit targets ex-Fellowship members

[ed. - Regarding anti-cult lawyer Ford Greene, former Fellowship of Friends member Max Taylor is quoted in the San Francisco Weekly:]
“Fighting cults comes from deep within Ford's own experience,” says Vermont attorney Max Taylor, whom Greene helped bring out of a group called Fellowship of Friends years ago. “In his mind there's nothing worse than using spirituality to take advantage of people.”

by Frank Hartzell
Marysville-Yuba City, California

An anonymous lawsuit by a religious leader who says he is being harassed because he is a homosexual has upset former members of the foothill community of Apollo, who suspect they may be its target.

The suit was filed in Oakland federal court by Oregon House attorney Abraham Goldman. Goldman refused to name the religious leader identified as "John Doe" in the suit. Nor would Goldman identify the "ABC" religious corporation the suit says was founded by that leader.

The suit alleges their ability to exercise their religious and First Amendment rights are being "chilled" by the harassment.

Goldman is the day-to-day attorney for Apollo — the world headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends in Oregon House.

Marin attorney Ford Greene, who describes himself as a lawyer who sues cults, said he knows the real names of William and Henry Rowe, who are fictitiously named in the suit.

"There is no doubt this suit is aimed at my client," said Greene, who represents Troy Buzbee of Grass Valley. Buzbee, 26, was raised in the Fellowship and left in September.

"I believe Goldman's intent in doing this is to intimidate my client into not exercising his legal rights," he said. "He is launching a preemptive strike."

Greene said he sent a letter this spring to the Fellowship of Friends and founder Robert Burton on Buzbee's behalf. It demanded $5 million be paid to his client.

Goldman's suit says William and Henry Rowe, pseudonyms for an unnamed father and son, falsely claim in a $5 million demand letter that they were coerced into sex with the religious leader the suit calls John Doe.

The suit states that the demand is part of a conspiracy in which former members instigate unfounded lawsuits based on false accusations that the founder preys on young male followers.

The former members repeatedly accuse the unnamed group of being a cult and engaging in brainwashing, the suit said.

"Plaintiffs have been the target of repeated attacks by such persons and groups since before 1980 and to the current time that were motivated by antireligious animus and the motive to chill, interfere with or destroy the plaintiffs' free exercise of religion and the free exercise rights of all ABC members," the suit states.

Based on federal law, Goldman asks the court to block any suits filed in a local court based on that constitutional issue.

Greene said the suit won't stop him from filing a lawsuit in Yuba County Superior Court if he cannot reach a settlement in his current negotiations with Goldman.

Goldman would not discuss the suit. Fellowship public relations spokeswoman Cynthia Hill declined to discuss it as well and said she could not confirm it involves the Fellowship.

She said Burton would not consent to an interview.

Richard Buzbee of Sacramento said he is convinced he is the elder Rowe in the suit.

Richard Buzbee worked as a security guard at Burton's home until he left the group last year. Last fall, Buzbee said he sent letters under the name of Richard Laurel to group members saying he found out Burton began sexually pursuing his son in 1986 when the boy was 17 years old.

The suit filed by Goldman said the father and son falsely allege the son had an affair with the religious leader when the boy was 17 years old.

In Goldman's suit, it is said the described affair started when the son was 21 years old.

It states that no sexual relationship between the two has existed for at least one year and makes the claim that the father is responsible for what may have happened to his son.

In his letter to Fellowship members, Richard Buzbee admits some fault for what happened to his son.

"While he was growing up, I taught Troy that Robert was like a God, someone he could fully trust in every regard. I thus unknowingly set him up to be used by Robert for sex," Richard Buzbee wrote.

Buzbee said he mailed the letters to numerous members after being banned from Apollo by Burton.

Buzbee said his son hopes to get a settlement for the damage Burton caused. Troy Buzbee could not be reached for comment.

But Buzbee said his only intent with the letter he wrote was to try to make Fellowship members understand they are not part of a religion.

"I wanted them to know they are in a destructive cult," Richard Buzbee said.

State corporate records show Goldman as the registered agent of the Fellowship of Friends and no other religious organizations. The suit also states the religious corporation was founded about 1970. The Fellowship was founded in 1971.

Goldman would not discuss the suit, saying he may be subject to confidentiality rules that prohibit comment. He said if one party in a legal case violates confidentiality it does not give the other party the right to do so.

Several prominent former members said they left the group last winter after reading Buzbee's letter and a similar letter by Wim Pieters, but denied they are conspiring against the Fellowship.

"There is no conspiracy of any kind," Carl Mautz, the former chief attorney for the Fellowship said. Mautz represented the Fellowship in numerous court actions for almost two decades and said he once held the position now occupied by Goldman.

"This lawsuit is reflective of a certain attitude that people who are critical of the Fellowship are involved in a conspiracy," Mautz said. "That attitude is just wrong."

The suit said lawsuits have been filed and the unnamed religious group and its founder have been subject to repeated attacks since about 1980.

Former Fellowship board member Samuel Sanders filed a lawsuit in 1985 that alleges Burton abused numerous men in the organization. The suit was mentioned in several newspapers, but was dismissed after the two sides agreed to an out-of-court settlement, court files show.

In a sealed deposition for the Sanders suit, Burton said he had affairs with nearly 50 members or former Fellowship members before 1985, according to a statement filed in court records of the Sanders suit.

At that time, Burton said that as teacher of the Fellowship he had asked members not to engage in homosexual relations.

Goldman's recent suit states the regular "gay bashing" attacks that began about 1982 became part of a conspiracy about two years ago.

"Starting in 1992 or 1993 and continuing to the present time, the coconspirators further formulated a plan to destroy the ABC Corporation and abrogate First Amendment freedoms through false accusations regarding Doe's sex life, and by instigating unfounded lawsuits against defendants based upon Doe's private consensual sex life, his homosexual preference and by attacking on anti-religious grounds of 'mind-control,' 'brainwashing' and 'cults,' " the suit states.

"The lawsuit appears to be fear based, and not based on any sense of seeking truth or clearing the air so that all Fellowship members, current and past, can go on with their lives," Mautz said.


With tensions of former Fellowship of Friends members high, a first-ever reunion picnic will be held Saturday at Lake Francis in Dobbins. See story Friday.


Fellowship of Friends founder Robert Burton talked about his background while answering an attorney's questions in a civil lawsuit filed in Yuba County Superior Court in 1985.

Name: Robert E. Burton

Born: May 12, 1939 in North Little Rock, Ark. Moved to Berkeley at age 4.

Education: Graduate of San Jose State University in 1963. Earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

Career: Taught elementary school in the Spring Hill School District in Lafayette in the early 1960s.

Fourth Way: At age 27 Burton stopped teaching school and began to pursue philosophy and religion. He attended a Quaker church in Berkeley and studied a wide range of philosophical works. Burton was hitchhiking when he was picked up by a man who took him to a meeting about the Fourth Way. He studied under two teachers of a Fourth Way school in San Francisco. Burton says he became a teacher of the Fourth Way on Jan. 1,1970 while at a New Year's Eve party.

Apollo: Burton came to Yuba County on July 4,1971 with a group of less than 100 students to found Renaissance. The name was changed to Apollo last year. Source: Samuel L Sanders v. Fellowship of Friends Inc. et al.

Molko vs. Holy Spirit Association

Complaint: Filed in 1980 by at- case to the supreme court, torney Ford Greene of Marin on behalf of former members Tracy Leal and Stanley Molko against the Korea-based Unification Church whose followers are known as Moonies.

Synopsis: The two sued saying they were lied to by Unification Church recruiters then suffered damage when they were brainwashed at a camp in Boonville. The decision defines brainwashing.

California Supreme Court: Published a decision in 1988 that states religious organizations can be sued for fraud if a misrepresentation is made for the purpose of brainwashing someone, and allowed civil liabilities where brainwashing has been used. Greene presented the case to the supreme court.

Settlement: Greene said the Unification Church paid an award under seal that totaled in the "high six or low seven figures."

Precedent: Greene said he sent a $5 million claim letter to the Fellowship of Friends that claims his client, Troy Buzbee, would win in court under the precedent set by the Molko decision. In what Greene said was a response suit, Oregon House Attorney Abraham Goldman contends that a suit brought against his clients does not have standing under the Molko decision because the claims are false. Goldman won't confirm he is involved in negotiations with Greene. Greene said he is in negotiations with Goldman.


ABC, Inc. & John Doe v. William Rowe & Henry Rowe is a lawsuit that refers to real people, but not people named Doe or Rowe.

ABC, Doe and Rowe are fictitious names that lawyers use on the title page of a lawsuit to protect the anonymity of the persons and companies involved in sensitive cases.

Roger W. Sleight, managing partner of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, a San Francisco law firm, said anonymous names are usually used when lawyers do not know the names of certain parties. An intentionally anonymous lawsuit, where neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants are identified, he said, is extremely rare.

According to a legal practice guide written by federal Judge William Schwarzer, courts generally require the parties to identify themselves. The parties may proceed anonymously, however, only in "exceptional cases" involving sensitive issues — homosexuality or child sexual abuse, for example.

As the case proceeds to trial, however, the identity of the parties will likely be revealed. Civil trials are open to the public, and presumably, one of the fictitiously named parties will have to testify, necessitating identifying the person involved.

Monday, March 13, 1995

"In the name of Religion" - Last of Two Parts

Church leader's sexual trysts cause membership defections

The San Diego Union-Tribune

March 13, 1995

By Gordon Smith
Staff Writer


Five months after he had a sexual encounter with Robert Burton, the founder and leader of the Fellowship of Friends, Richard Laurel wrote an open letter to his fellow members in the group. The letter explained that Burton had asked Laurel to become a night guard at his chateaulike home at the Fellowship's headquarters, called Apollo, here in the tiny foothill community of Oregon House. Among the duties of the guards, Laurel said, was to give Burton massages.

Like most members of the Fellowship, Laurel went on to say, he considered Burton to be practically a god, and someone whom he "could fully trust in every regard."

So it surprised and shocked him, Laurel said, when during a massage, Burton pulled down his (Laurel's) pants and, without a word, performed oral sex on him.

"I felt betrayed and used by the man who I thought was my spiritual father," wrote Laurel, who prefers to be identified by the surname he used while in the Fellowship.

It bothered him even more when he found out that many other members, including his teen-age son, had been pursued for sex by Burton for years, added Laurel, who is married.

Laurel's letter led to a wave of resignations and expulsions of longtime members of the group. The resulting loss of as much as $500,000 in annual dues may have in turn sparked a financial crisis, according to some former members.

But a spokesman for Fellowship denied that it's in financial trouble.

And Abraham Goldman, Burton's attorney, insisted that the sexual encounter between Burton and Laurel was consensual.

"It was not the only time they had physical affection with each other," Goldman added. "Mr. Laurel's letter doesn't tell the full story."

It did, however, lead some longtime members to question Burton s behavior-partly because Laurel's complaint echoed charges made against Burton and the Fellowship in a lawsuit by former member Samuel Sanders in 1984.

Sanders claimed he felt betrayed when he discovered that Burton made a habit of having sex with rank-and-file members, most of them heterosexual males and many of them married.

Psychological trauma

Some members suffered lasting psychological trauma as a result of the sexual encounters, alleged the suit, which was settled out of court after a three-year legal battle.

Laurel, reached at home in Sacramento recently, said he didn't want to talk about the letter he wrote last year because he is considering legal action against Burton. But his open letter to the Fellowship prompted another similar letter from a second man, who agreed to be interviewed recently on the condition that his real name not be used. In this article he'll be called Johan Van Gaal [ed: Wim Pieters].

Van Gaal, who joined the Fellowship in 1985 at its center in Amsterdam, said he was told repeatedly how spiritually enlightened-almost saintly-Burton was.

"I was (also) told that in order to further my personal evolution as fast as possible, I had to give over my will (to Burton), so that something more real could grow within myself."

He learned that homosexuality among group members was banned, too. But he wasn't told that Burton personally ignored that rule (which ended in 1993). Or that Burton frequently had sexual relationships with male members of the group.

So he was surprised and confused when Burton seduced him shortly after he moved to the group's headquarters in 1986, Van Gaal said. He simply covered his face in shame as Burton performed oral sex on him.

"I had never had a homosexual encounter before this," said Van Gaal. "But he told me it was the wish of C-influence (the group's term for higher forces, or gods) that I have sex with him."

Van Gaal subsequently became a night guard at Burton's home, and the sexual encounters continued- sometimes as often as three times a week-until 1990, he said.

The Fellowship teaches "that you're supposed to transform suffering and negativity, utilize energy that can ignite through this friction." Van Gaal explained.

"I was of the impression that I should bear this suffering to get a spiritual transformation."

[ed. - This is Colin Lambert, not Robert Burton.]

Philosophy supports sex drive
But he gradually came to believe that the philosophy was being used to support Burton's personal desires for control and sex.

"I was needy for spiritual guidance, and I guess if you're needy, you re willing to take certain things for granted more than you would if you're not quite as gullible," said Van Gaal.

He began resisting Burton's advances after getting married in 1990, and left the Fellowship last October, he said.

Attorney Goldman said Burton had a consensual sexual relationship with Van Gaal.

"I can't say how long it lasted or how often it occurred. But there were times when Mr. (Van Gaal) initiated the meetings." Goldman said.

He pointed out that laws vary from state to state regarding whether sex between a religious leader and a disciple-or a doctor and patient, for that matter-is illegal.

"Mr. Burton has never abused his position of power or trust with a member, either involving a sexual relationship or any other aspect of his teaching," Goldman added.

A current Fellowship member who said he became one of Burton's lovers for a time while separated from his wife agreed.

"Robert's in a position of power being the founder of the Fellowship... but I don't think he misuses that position", said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.

"I've refused Robert sex," he said, "If someone feels pressure to give in it's basically their imagination.

"One thing that rules most of our lives is what people think of us," he went on, "I feel I took a big step in the direction of being free from that" through having sex with Burton.

However Carl Mautz, a former lawyer for the Fellowship who helped defend the group during Sander's lawsuit, said Burton's sexual relationships with members are "an obvious abuse of power."

Like many other former members of the group, Mautz said he wasn't offended by Burton's homosexuality, but by the inherently domineering aspects of a leader having sex with his followers.

Taken advantage of

Not all members of the Fellowship are approached for sex by Burton, Mautz noted. But Johan Van Gaal "was completely taken advantage of."

In their 1993 book "The Guru Papers," authors Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad reported that cult leaders often express and consolidate control over their disciples through sex.

Ironically, people who submit to experimental sex with their spiritual leaders often see themselves as liberated spiritual adventures, they wrote.

"That many discontented and innovative people were unwittingly seduced into submission... indicates the depth of people's susceptibility to authoritarian control," they said.

Goldman insisted Burton did not seduce Laurel or Van Gaal, "Sexual relations can arise from mutual attraction," he said.

However the member who is currently Burton's lover spoke of originally turning Burton down "when he first approached me," and added, "It is always up to the person he, Burton, is propositioning to say no."

In any case as Kramer and Alstad pointed out, most [devotees who study under a specific] spiritual leader-and make that study the focus of their lives-find it difficult to deny the leader anything, even when he or she openly expresses a sexual interest.

Moreover, the ideologies of small religious groups typically discourage any questioning of the leader's actions, they said.

The Fellowship is no exception.

Members are taught that Burton is a higher being with understanding they do not have, said Mautz.

"People in the Fellowship who aren't close to Robert act around him the way your ordinary 14-year-old would act around Michael Jordan," Mautz said.

Members nervous around leader

"They're nervous. They fumble for words. It's a totally uneven playing field."

Joel Friedlander, a former spokesman and board member for the Fellowship who resigned last year, agreed.

"One of the teachings of the Fellowship is that doubts come from the false part of yourself. That's an effective control mechanism," he said.

Cynthia Hill, the Fellowship's director of public relations, insisted that while members strive not to express negative emotions, any topic can be discussed as long as it's in "a neutral tone of voice."

And longtime member Colin Lambert said the Fellowship has a teacher-student relationship that is based on established spiritual tradition and is difficult for many Americans, schooled in democratic principles, to understand.

"We do not believe that a teacher has to explain himself to his students," Lambert said. "But you voluntarily enter this relationship, and take responsibility."

Such ideas support Burton's continued leadership and lifestyle. But as Lambert acknowledged, only those who trust the teacher stay in the group. Those who don't, leave.

Charles Randall, the Fellowship's former business manager, left last October in the wake of Laurel's letter.

After 21 years in the group, he said, he came to believe Burton was effectively manipulating the minds as well as the bodies of members through a self-serving philosophy.

"I'm kind of humiliated by the whole thing," said Randall.

"I thought it was the one true way, but as it turns out, it was just a cult."

He's among about 100 members who resigned or were expelled in the aftermath of Laurel's letter, according to Mautz.

Departures create financial bind

The changes could put financial pressure on the group, Mautz said.

"That's a huge amount of money" to lose in the form of annual dues, he explained (most members give 10 percent of their income to the group).

In fact, the Fellowship is in default on most of its 1994 property taxes, and owes more than $415,000 in '94-'95 taxes, penalties and interest. The 1,300 acres owned by the group are valued at nearly $21 million, said a spokesman for the Yuba County assessor's office.

Hill said the Fellowship will initiate a payment plan later this year to cover taxes in arrears.

"This situation is not unusual for businesses," she said. "As often occurs with young wineries in particular, cash-flow difficulties may arise as production and sales become equalized."

Others say that whatever the group's finances, Burton's predictions of a catastrophic earthquake followed by nuclear holocaust could lead to a crisis down the road.

Margaret Singer, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Berkeley who has counseled thousands of former cult members, said both doomsday predictions and mass suicides (which she called mass murders since they are orchestrated by cult leaders) will increase as the end of the millenium nears.

"All these cult 'prophets' enjoy reading significance into the change in the millenium," she said.

Friedlander said he doesn't think the Fellowship's doomsday scenario will lead that far.

"But you can't rule it out," he said. "The Fellowship certainly has the idea of gathering the faithful for the coming holocaust, of creating a self-contained community, and believing that former members are out to get them."

Randall believes the Fellowship will almost certainly endure, as it did after the lawsuit by Samuel Sanders. Burton is unlikely to destroy the vehicle that enables him to indulge his whims, Randall said.

And as doubters leave and loyalists stay. he pointed out, the group becomes more cohesive than ever.

Photo caption: "International headquarters: The Fellowship's 1,300 acres in the foothills of Yuba County include a vineyard and winery. The group also owns 130 pieces of antique Chinese hardwood furniture, some valued at $100,000.

Feuding With The Locals

Effort to keep low profile didn't work
The San Diego Union-Tribune/March, 1995 By Gordon Smith - Staff Writer

When the Fellowship of Friends chose the foothills of Yuba County for its home back in 1971, "we thought we could come up here and disappear," one of the group's leaders, Girard Haven, said not long ago.

Members not only focused on inward-looking spiritual work, but were actively encouraged not to socialize with "outsiders," according to many people formerly in the group.

As Haven noted, however, the effort to maintain a low profile didn't succeed. The Fellowship's wine making, its art collecting, its esoteric religious beliefs and its mostly middle and upper-middle-class members all stand out in Yuba County, a blue-collar agricultural area whose median per-capita income is one of the lowest in the state.

Many locals were suspicious of a group that quickly became one of the largest property owners in the area yet kept to itself, said former county Supervisor John Mistler.

Some still are. There have been numerous complaints that the relatively affluent Fellowship has received kid-glove treatment from Yuba County officials on building permits and various kinds of code enforcement.
The most vitriolic accusations come from the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly (OGA), a small group of fundamentalist, antigovernment Christians that lost a 107-acre ranch to Fellowship members in an access dispute in 1993.

Interviewed recently in a sparsely furnished office while guarded by an enormous Rottweiler named Buck, several OGA members accused the Fellowship and county officials of conspiring to cover up murders and child sexual abuse, as well as arranging for selective enforcement of building and health codes.
Far-fetched as some of these complaints sound, they helped bring about a grand jury investigation of the Yuba County Building and Planning Department last year.

That investigation blamed department director Larry Brooks for failing to control illegal building and building use, applying some regulations inconsistently and obstructing the grand jury's inquiry, among other things.

Brooks sued the grand jury for defamation and libel, and was fired by the County Board of Supervisors in October. He is considering further legal action.

Nevertheless, an inspection by the Yuba County Environmental Health Department in December discovered serious code violations at the Fellowship's "lodge," where members ate.

The violations included an unauthorized second story, open wiring and bare earth exposed through the floor, according to Carol Fitzgerald, a county environmental health specialist. The lodge was closed. [ed. - For nearly twenty years, the Fellowship knowingly ignored the law. See "Imitation Meditation Room".] Cynthia Hill, the Fellowship's director of public relations, said the group's architects will work with county officials to resolve the issue.

President Kristina Nielsen added that the Fellowship is making a deliberate effort these days to reach out into the community that surrounds it.

"We don't have an isolationist attitude," she insisted.

The 600 members who live on or near the group's 1,300-acre property patronize local stores, and some have built houses and started businesses, she pointed out.

We've upscaled the area," Nielsen said.

The group's small restaurant is open to the public. So are its winery and its small museum of antique Chinese furniture, albeit by appointment only.

An orchestra and chorus from the group performed at a church in Sacramento last month, and its collection of antique Chinese furniture is scheduled to be displayed at the Pacific Heritage Museum in San Francisco for nine months beginning April 20. "We wish to be more attentive to relations with the community," said Nielsen.

[ed. - Other references to the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly:]

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 11, 2007:
To LOL (#11-355, 424 and many others)[blogger and post numbers]

Like it or not, to many you represent the Fellowship of Friends. I have no idea if you are doing this as part of what you conceive to be third line work (advancing the aims of the school and the teacher), or if it is just a convenient place to vent off the pressures of your life (your implication). I suppose it is possible that you are officially here as part of a plan to try to disrupt the blog. But, as I said, you are seen as a representative of the FoF, as one aspect of its being, and I have to point out that you are not doing a good job as ambassador.

You burst in on the scene a couple of pages ago (in your incarnation as LOL, at least) in a flurry of activity and negativity. I read your words and see a lot of thoughts about injustice, bias, and lying. I’m sure there are aspects of those here, and yet if that was all there were, your own experience should tell you that the blog would have died long before this. When you talk about the Inner Circle of the Blog, I wonder what you mean. By it’s very nature, a blog is disorganized, even if it built around a theme. The only way to have an inner circle, or favorites, is to have an organization, or a vote. So, you must be measuring frequency of posts, in which case you certainly qualify for the “Inner Circle”; you’re welcome to that lofty space, watch out for altitude sickness!

You are pretty keen on the old fart theme, and show that you know something about the past history of the FoF. So it seems possible that you are either an old fart yourself, or joined so young that you have both the first–hand historical view but are not yet old enough to be an old fart. You are obviously in a position where you have either been given permission or feel self-important enough to give yourself permission to attend the festivities. Maybe you are Linda T. herself? She is the only one who can tell us about her inner state without (maybe) lying, and you claim to know it.

Well, we voted to include your views and others like them, and you are keeping on as one of the most frequent contributors. That says something about us, and something about you. Although of course we know you do not represent the whole Fellowship, just as some of your targets on the blog do not represent the whole blog community, one way or another you are giving us a glimpse behind the scenes. So, thank you!

To Simple Truth (#11-465)

Burton is not a private person with a private life. He is a very public person (at least in the large fish in a small pond scale of things), and invites public scrutiny, not least because he has set himself up as an example and guide. Since the FoF is the form, the vessel being built by students, and he is supposed to fill it, it matters a great deal what he fills it with. There cannot be too much light shed on every aspect of his being. That he operates mostly behind closed doors implies much about his being, and of course leads to some guesswork. That’s the simple truth.

To Unoanimo (#11-483)

Have you ever met Michelle Milligan, her paramour “Reverend” Heinz, or any of the others in the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly? I had quite a lot of contact with them (unfortunately, I was a neighbor to their property), and still see them around in Oroville. Now, there are some pain bodies to study! Michelle did copy the court documents* accurately, but I wouldn’t put much trust in the rest of her articles!

With love to you all, ‘in’ and ‘out’, Ames

[*Ames appears to be referencing these documents.]

"Bares Reposting" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 13, 2011:
Look, my friends, here is the scenario:

REB lives under his own different laws. There is no male child that REB lays eyes on that does not fall under his spell to groom and have sex with as soon as they are capable of ejaculating into REB’s mouth. Does it happen at a very early age? That is anybody’s quess. (Someone care to fess up here?) But this I can tell you: There are many parents that have precautionarily kept their male children at a distance, and out of sight of, REB.

Do you remember that the Lewis Carroll Elementary School used to be on the property of the Fellowship of Friends (Pathway to Presence – Living Presence – Church of Robert Earl Burton) directly across Hans Christian Andersen Way from the residence of REB? Hans Christian Andersen Way was the name of the main entry road to the FoF property at the time, where the residence of REB was #44 – O! so make believe a fairy tale. From REB’s location, with or without binoculars, the children could be watched.

In the early 1990′s, around when AG first arrived to live longterm in Oregon House and to become the Fellowship of Friends main lawyer, there was the T.B. underaged sex abuse lawsuit brought by Ford Greene. AG was to defend REB against this case, in a ‘no holds barred’ (no maneuvers prohibited) sort of fashion.

At about the same time, there was a lawsuit that AG was working, where some fellowship members were denied access to the property where they lived by the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly (OGA), whose property the access road passed first. The direct quote from REB on how to treat this case was: ‘Go for the jugular,’ as in jugular vein, that is, go for the kill. The case was won but not without significant strife for the Fellowship of Friends and REB. OGA became a thorn in the side of FoF for awhile. But that is a side story.

T.B. did not attend that elementary school, that I am aware of; he was too old. But several departments (octaves) of the Fellowship of Friends were the grounds to employ all sorts of ‘darlings’ of REB’s so that the young men were indentured servants (slaves) and were nearby for quick access for sex. T.B. was one of those.

The message from AG to REB after the TB case was: I cannot defend you against this sort of thing. (The case was settled out of court for a reported $5 million.) So, stop doing that – make sure the sex is with adaquate aged persons and consentual. Would this stop REB? Hell no! He must have his cake and eat it, too.

The way to prevent backlashes from sex partners is to compromise their ability to attack in the TB fashion. So, grooming male children of fellowship members from the time of birth, is a way to grow your own. Example: E.T. and C.C. (an REB personal secretary) had 3 children. They were considered the ‘Royal Family’ as REB doted upon them big time. Their first born male child had REB as godfather. Ownership had been established – except for the tattoo of ‘this property belongs to REB’ on the child’s buttocks. C.C. probably, eventually woke up to where this was leading. E.T. and C.C. split from Oregon House and went to live in Europe. They gave up a new home (which was across Rice’s Crossing Road from REB’s residence) that was virtually given to them along with a life where their needs were ever met by REB. E.T., likely, still is wide-eyed and naive about this from what I know – she still loves REB like a father, god, and teacher – still in a fairyland.

So, is it plausible that AG’s son could come under such perdition? What irony would that be? Defend REB under these circumstances and then have your own flesh and blood exposed? REB can plan and conive and wait patiently for years to get what he wants. The longer he waits, the more tantalizing the prey becomes. Meanwhile, what AG wanted for his child, did that matter? REB has the magic wand in one hand and a club in the other – just like REB describes of Influence C.

Sunday, March 12, 1995

"In the name of Religion" - First of two parts

[ed. - Material for this article and that of March 13, 1995 comes from two sources: and]

A religious group is rocked by allegations of sexual impropriety by leader Robert Burton
By Gordon Smith
Staff writer
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 12, 1995
Oregon House, Yuba County - To anyone driving the two-lane roads that wind through the foothills of one of California's poorest counties, the international headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends - one of the state's most unusual and controversial religious groups - comes as a shock.

Mile after mile of mobile homes and aging ranch houses, tucked into the forests of oak and pine some 50 miles north of Sacramento, suddenly give way to this: 1,300 acres of rolling hillsides and dazzling vineyards.

The Fellowship produces wine as part of an esoteric belief that observing refined traditions can help lead to spiritual enlightenment. Its award-winning winery has been the subject of flattering articles in Sunset and Los Angeles Times magazines.

But a growing number of former members - including some who served on the group's board of directors - say the Fellowship's practices are those of an exploitive cult.

These practices and the group's convoluted philosophy are used, they say, to support founder and leader Robert Burton's penchant for traveling worldwide, collecting expensive artwork and having frequent sex with a virtual harem of male members.

Most of the critics emphasize they are offended not by Burton's homosexuality, but by what they contend is the use of his position of power to have sex with dozens of members, most of them heterosexual men.

Wave of resignations and expulsions following a member's open letter
Charles Randall, the Fellowship's former business manager, noted that Burton is known within the group as the Teacher and is revered for having extraordinary knowledge and spirituality. Thus, many members don't anticipate having sex with him, and feel awkward resisting any sexual interest that he expresses, Randall said.

"They don't see it coming, and when it comes, they don't know what's happened," he said.

Wave of leave-taking

Randall resigned last fall, part of a wave of resignations and expulsions of longtime members in the group that occurred in the wake of an open letter written by member Richard Laurel to the rest of the Fellowship.

The letter- circulated widely among members and former members-told how Burton performed oral sex on Laurel one night after asking Laurel to give him a massage. It led to a similar open letter by another man in the group.

Burton-tall, handsome, described by many as alternately charming and intense -did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.

"It's just his policy not to make public statements," said Abraham Goldman, Burton's attorney.

Goldman said Burton had sexual relationships with both Laurel and the other member who circulated a letter last fall, but said the relationships were consensual.

"We don't think a (sexual) relationship between a leader and a member of the congregation is abusive in and of itself," he added.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Hill, the Fellowship's director of public relations, denied that the group is a cult.

"People leave all the time, so if we are 'brainwashing' people, we are certainly not very good at it," she said.

But Margaret Singer, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Berkeley who has counseled thousands of former cult members, including people from the Fellowship, said the group has all the hallmarks of a cult.

"It was started by one man, who gets followed and adored like cult leaders do," she said.

"It's just that this group has upper-class manners. And most people expect cults to be youth-oriented, rather than full of grown-ups."

Singer said cults are increasingly targeting mature adults, who tend to have better sources of income than youths.

And the groups are proliferating, she added-particularly in California.
"There are more cults today than there were during Jonestown," said Singer, referring to the infamous mass suicide of more than 900 members of the Rev. Jim Jones' People's Temple in Guyana in 1978. "People are catching on how easy it is to manipulate other people."

Randall said that's exactly what Burton does. The Teacher even promises that Fellowship members will somehow re-civilize the world after a catastrophic earthquake and nuclear holocaust.

"Most of the people I know in the Fellowship were walking around with a hole in their heart where religion should have been," Randall said.

"And that's right where they got hooked."

It starts with bookmarks tucked into selected works in metaphysical bookstores around the world. The bookmarks-diligently planted by members of the Fellowship of Friends-bear small portraits of George Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian philosopher who died in 1950, and Peter Ouspensky, a Russian journalist who became Gurdjieff's student in the early part of this century.

Next to the portraits are phone numbers for nearby Gurdjieff-Ouspensky "centers." There are about 40 of these centers around the world, including one in San Diego. Most are rented houses staffed by half a dozen or so members of the Fellowship.

People who call up are invited to a series of three introductory meetings at which center leaders present some of the arcane theories of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, along with the notion of seven fundamental "body types" that supposedly provide broad insight into human psychology.

Afterward, the curious can either join or not. Those who do join agree verbally to give 10 percent of their income to the group.

But Joel Friedlander, an author and former teacher and spokesman for the Fellowship who resigned last year, charged that the group's recruitment process is deceptive.

Friedlander's book, "Body Types," is one of those that Fellowship members target with their bookmarks. He said it has become a hobby of his to visit metaphysical bookstores and take the bookmarks out.

The bookmarks "use the aura of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky to entice people to call up," Friedlander said.

"But the group has virtually nothing to do with the Gurdjieff system ... it's basically Robert Burton's ideology grafted onto a Gurdjieff base."

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, he pointed out, never talked about body types.

"There are more cults today than there were during Jonestown. People are catching on how easy it is to manipulate other people."
Margaret Singer, UC Berkeley
They likewise didn't talk about 44 angels-also called higher forces, or "C influence" - that Burton claims he communicates with personally, and who supposedly watch over the Fellowship. The angels include Jesus, Plato Goethe, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

Another deceptive thing about the introductory meetings, according to Randall, is that "they don't explain that you're going to be heavily indoctrinated with the idea that you better never leave" the group.

Only through Burton

Members are told they can have a relationship with C influence only through Burton, and that if they leave the Fellowship their spiritual progress will end and their friends who are members will never talk to them again, Randall said.
Goldman, Burton's attorney, said that when Friedlander and Randall left the Fellowship, they told Burton how much they appreciated him and how much they had gained from his teaching.

"It's not an uncommon thing, when people have been in a religious group like this and have devoted the better part of their adult lives to it, that they see things differently and say something very different (after) they leave," Goldman said.

As for Burton's ideas about C influence, public relations director Hill said the group believes higher forces are working with it, but that members have great freedom and diversity in interpreting what that means.

The group's philosophy "is not just somebody's idea about something," she insisted, but an expansion and interpretation of the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, which in turn were based on ancient spiritual traditions.

Nevertheless, Girard Haven, who recently resigned as president of the Fellowship but remains a key leader, noted: "We believe Mr. Burton is a (fully) conscious being, and has an understanding that we do not have. He's a very active force in directing and providing guidance."

That guidance includes the prediction that California will be stricken by a massive earthquake in 1998, followed by a nuclear war in 2006-yet another idea that isn't presented to prospective members until after they have committed themselves to joining the Fellowship.

"Our position as a group is that we are preparing these things, although we don't know if they will actually happen," Haven said.

"I would discourage people from setting a great deal of faith in it. And yet it is realistically a possibility, and we can see that Mr. Burton understands things that we don't understand."

In this doomsday scenario, the Fellowship will preserve the world's fine art and culture through the divine intervention of C influence. A new civilization will sprout at the group's Yuba County headquarters.

"Burton talks about it all the time," said Randall. "He's even talked about being able to get the Mona Lisa after the holocaust. What you read in the Gurdjieff and Ouspensky books becomes a doomsday theory."

Burton also predicted a worldwide economic collapse in 1984. While some members may not have set a great deal of faith in it, former member Charles Preston recalls being advised to buy 100-pound sacks of rice at the time and store them as a hedge against the coming global depression.

The collapse never took place, of course. But some members of the group found their faith shaken even further later that year, when a prominent member of the group, Samuel Sanders, filed suit against Burton and the Fellowship.

In charges remarkably similar to those leveled by Richard Laurel last fall, Sanders said that after nine years in the group, he was dismayed to discover that Burton regularly had sex with numerous male members.

In fact, Burton manipulated the beliefs and assets of the entire membership in order to satisfy his own "voracious appetite for perverted sexual pleasure and elegant lifestyle... ," the lawsuit alleged.

Former Fellowship board member Carl Mautz was one of the lawyers who helped defend the group in the long, bitter court battle that followed.

"When Sanders said that he had been brainwashed, we looked down at him and said, 'You (jerk),'" Mautz recalled not long ago.

"But he was right"

Fellowship Founder Robert Burton
'The Teacher' who predicts a holocaust

By Gordon Smith
Staff Writer

The Fellowship of Friends has been recognized by the state and federal governments as a tax-exempt, nonprofit religious corporation since 1971.
In other words, it's a church.

About the only thing required to obtain that status is to hold regular meetings and have a statement of religious purpose, said Judith Golden, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service.

"You don't apply to be a church. You're a church" if you say you are, she said.

The Fellowship, in its unorthodox way, says it is.

Founder and leader Robert Burton, 55, earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from San Jose State College in 1963. He taught elementary school in Lafayette and for the Emeryville Unified School District in the San Francisco Bay Area before studying the writings of various philosophers on his own.

He also attended a Quaker church in Berkeley off and on during the mid-1960s, which may have eventually inspired the name for his Fellowship of Friends.

In 1968, Burton became captivated-along with a number of other Bay Area residents-by the works of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky.

In the first half of this century, the two men developed a complex philosophy called the Fourth Way that revolves around the core idea that people are spiritually "asleep."

Acquiring true consciousness, they argued, requires diligent "self remembering"-a concept often likened to the Buddhist philosophy of concentrating on the present moment.

Another key is to refrain from expressing negative emotions, which waste energy and distract from spiritual pursuits, they said.

In 1970, Burton convinced a small coterie of acquaintances in Contra Costa County that he was a "man No.5"-defined by Ouspensky as a self-conscious being-possessed of higher knowledge and emotions than most people.

The group quickly attracted other believers, all of whom gave monthly fees to Burton as their teacher.

The Fellowship incorporated in 1971 and, that year, purchased property in Yuba County near the tiny community of Oregon House. By 1973 members were clearing land, planting vines and starting construction of an enormous winery there.

About 600 of the Fellowship's 1,900 members now live at or near this property, known as Apollo. Many others operate "centers"-usually a rented house staffed by half a dozen or so members-in major cities throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America.

Most give 10 percent of their income, in the form of monthly fees, to the group. Members are also often asked to make additional special donations for the purchase of sculptures, paintings and other works of fine art which they believe uplift the human spirit and help in "self remembering".

The average contribution for American members is $5,000 a year, according to the group's former business manager, Charles Randall, who resigned last October.

Foreign members-who have increased steadily in number and now comprise a majority of the group-tend to earn less and thus contribute less, but even so, the FeIlowship's total annual income from monthly dues and donations is about $4 million, Randall said.

None of that money is taxable and, since the Fellowship has legal status as a religious organization, it need not be reported to the IRS, Golden said.

The group includes many college-educated professionals, from doctors and lawyers to musicians and artists. They meet once a week at Apollo to discuss ideas on which the Fellowship is founded, with particular emphasis on their practical application," said Girard Haven, who stepped down as the group's president recently, but is still a key leader.

From time to time, Burton- known by members as the Teacher - has also decreed some unusua1 rules, or "exercises," for his flock.

No swimming. No joking. No smoking.

Until 1993, homosexuality was banned, although Burton himself is a homosexual who frequently has sexual relationships with members.

Formal dinners at which everyone wears tuxedos or gowns are held regularly. Lavish parties have been thrown to celebrate Burton's gradual spiritual advancement to a "fully conscious being."

The Teacher also predicts California will be destroyed in an earthquake in 1998, followed by a worldwide nuclear holocaust in 2006. But Apollo and Fellowship members wil1 be spared, he says.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1981-one of the few interviews Burton has ever granted-he was asked if he thought he was Jesus Christ.

"Thou sayest it," Burton replied - Christ's words to Pontius Pilate upon being asked if he was the king of the Jews.

About 200 members work at Apollo, doing everything from administrative work to gardening. They are paid a stipend of $300-$400 a month, with food provided by the Fellowship.

Meanwhile, Burton is paid about $250,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to Randall, and spends much of his time traveling to research art and teach at the group's centers around the world.

At various times the Fellowship has collected Meissen china and European Renaissance paintings. It owns a collection of about 130 pieces of finely crafted Chinese hardwood furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The pieces range from desks to beds, with some valued as much as $100,000.

The Fellowship also makes wine under the label of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.

Renaissance's late-harvest Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, both dessert wines, have won international awards and have been poured for the Prince of Wales, former President George Bush and other world leaders. The winery has a capacity of 40,000 cases of wine a year and currently produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

All of that makes for an unusual religious organization, to be sure. But Golden said the IRS launches an inquiry into a church "only if we have a reason to suspect it is not fulfilling a religious purpose."

For the most part, she said, "A church is a church is always a church."

Tuesday, March 7, 1995

The Fellowship of Friends creates the "Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centres" website

[ed. - The Fellowship registered the domain "" and created the "Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centres" website. Below is a March 31, 1997 Internet Archive capture of the page.]

What is a school?
Quotations from our Teacher's book

What is this school?
Descriptive text about this school and its tradition.

Where is this School?
Locations where an interested person can find out more.

North America

Europe & Near East

South America

Asia & Pacific

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[ home] | [ next page ]

Last updated: December 29, 1996
  • Spanish first page added; translations in progress
  • New phone numbers for Brussels, Dublin & Tel Aviv
  • Link to French translation (flag and language name after text: more to come)
  • New phone number for Denver, Colorado
  • New phone number for Budapest
  • New telephone numbers for Bogota, Paris and Tijuana

© Fellowship of Friends 1996 All Rights Reserved

[ed. - It appears the site was taken over for awhile by Fellowship members' private enterprise, as seen in this April 26, 1998 Internet Archive capture of the website. It would later revert to "church use."]

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