COLUMBIA, SC — It has taken eight years, but finally the Rev. Dr. Neal R. Jones, a Columbia minister active in liberal causes, will be installed officially as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.
The Heyward Street congregation will hold a weekend of events to mark the occasion, Jan. 26-27.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, head of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church & State, will deliver the installation sermon at 4 p.m. Jan. 27. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, will also speak along with the Rev. Dan King, minister of First Parish Church, Kingston, Mass.
A day before, on Jan. 26, Lynn will address the Columbia chapter of Americans United at its 6 p.m. meeting at the church. The meeting is open to the public.
The installation comes now because Jones, a native of North Carolina, has recently completed coursework to earn ministerial standing with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the denomination to which the UUCC belongs, he said.
“Practically speaking, nothing will change,” Jones said. For the past eight years, he has served the church on a year-to-year contractual basis.
“Now I will be considered a ‘called’ minister,” he said.
He said he and the congregation joke affectionately, that “we have been living together for eight years and so now we have decided to get married.”
Jones gained some notoriety in 2007 when he joined four other ministers as plaintiffs in a successful lawsuit to halt South Carolina’s “I Believe” license plate. That same year he founded the Columbia chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State.
In 2009, he received the “Thunder and Lightning” Award from the SC Progressive Network for “providing a prophetic voice in the public square.”