Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

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."

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