Rev. Neal Jones, Psy.D.
Neal Jones has been the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia for the last ten years, starting as part-time in 2004 and then full-time in 2007.
Before serving as our minister, he was the clinical psychologist for the Pastoral Counseling Center of Palmetto Health, where he conducted therapy with individuals, couples, and families, performed personality assessments for the clergy candidates of four denominations, and managed a satellite pastoral counseling center in Sumter, SC. Neal preaches and lives a practical spirituality that seeks personal wholeness, relational respect, social justice, and ecological responsibility.
Neal’s father was a factory worker and his mother a secretary in Smithfield, a small tobacco town in eastern North Carolina, where Neal was born and raised. The Jones family belonged to a small, white-framed Southern Baptist Church, and Neal and his younger brother Chris attended public schools. Neal earned his B.A. in political science from Wake Forest University and his Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist
Theological Seminary, and he completed a residency in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the N.C. Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.
Neal was ordained by his home church in 1986, but he never served a Baptist church. The dogmatism and judgmentalism of the Baptist religion pushed him to join a more progressive denomination, the United Church of Christ, and he served as the minister of a UCC congregation in Rockwell, NC, and then of a Moravian church in Winston-Salem, NC. In 1996, Neal went back to school to earn a doctorate in psychology at Baylor University.
While attending Baylor, he discovered the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, Texas, and was soon hired as their part-time minister. Discovering Unitarian Universalism was a spiritual homecoming for Neal. For the first time, he experienced a religious community that respected the inherent worth and dignity of every person, encouraged a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, worked for peace and justice, and recognized the interdependent web of all existence. He has been a passionate “evangelist” for Unitarian Universalist principles ever since.
Neal’s psychologist internship brought him to the University of South Carolina and Columbia, which has been his home since 1999. He lives in the Shandon neighborhood, within walking distance from the congregation.
On December 2, 2012, the Columbia UU called Neal as its permanent minister, and on January 27, 2013, the congregation formally installed him as pastor, with Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation for Church & State; the Hon. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a representative in the SC House of Representatives; and Rev. Dan King, Neal's mentor minister, pastor of the First Parish Church in Kingston, MA, and former member of the Columbia UU, as the keynote speakers. Neal was presented a stole made by all the children of the congregation.