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 was born and raised in Smithfield, a small, Mayberry-like town in eastern North Carolina. Neal earned his B.A. in political science from Wake Forest University and his Master of Divinity from Southeastern Theological Seminary, and he completed a residency in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC.
Neal was ordained by his home church, the First Baptist Church of Smithfield, 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. 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 advocate for Unitarian Universalist principles ever since.
Neal’s psychologist internship brought him to the University of South Carolina Student Counseling Center and Columbia, which has been his home since 1999. He lives with his partner Alison Thirkield, a psychologist, in the Shandon neighborhood, within walking distance of the congregation. After becoming the minister of the UUCC, Neal took courses at both UU seminaries and attained Final Fellowship as a UU minister, after which he was formally called and installed as our settled minister. A humanist, Neal preaches and lives a practical spirituality that seeks personal wholeness, relational respect, social justice, and ecological responsibility.