Dennis Merritt Jones - After 23 years, Simi Spiritual Leader Moving On - By Alicia Doyle
Photos by Brian Mount / Saturday, July 19, 2008 / © 2008 Ventura County Star

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Dr. Dennis Merritt Jones came to Simi Valley in 1985 with a calling and a vision: to create a spiritual community where people could come and experience a personal sense of being part of something larger than themselves.

"That something,' of course, is God," said Jones, 59.

He wanted, as well, to create a community where people truly felt embraced and accepted for simply being who they were, just as they were.

"I also wanted to create a learning environment where people could study with some of the greatest master teachers in the field of metaphysics, learning the tools of affirmative prayer, meditation and universal spiritual principles with which they could change their lives and ultimately make the world a better place," he said.

Jones, who has a doctor of divinity degree, has since reached these goals through the OneSpirit Center for Conscious Living in Simi Valley, which he founded 23 years ago and which welcomes upward of 150 congregants every Sunday.

Now, he is moving on.

"This vision has come to fruition," he said. "And it is now time for me to step aside and allow someone with their own version of that vision to assume leadership of OneSpirit, and take it to the next level of what it can be."

Jones — known in the community as "Dr. Dennis," "Dr. D" or simply "Dennis" — will lead his last regular service Sunday.

His replacement has yet to be determined, as candidates for the post are now under consideration.

"I believe I have taken the organization as far as I can," Jones said, "but I know there is more for OneSpirit to do to serve those currently in this spiritual community and the many more to come in the future."

Costa Frantzides of Simi Valley, the sound and recording engineer at OneSpirit, was working at a Religious Science retreat when he met Jones 20 years ago.

"I watched Dr. D evolve in the last 20 years that I have known him, from an intellectual great teacher that taught a good lesson to an intellectual passionate teacher that taught a great lesson from the heart," Frantzides said. "He will be missed."

Scott Ewing, who has attended churches of Religious Science with his wife for the past decade, looked into OneSpirit when they were considering moving to Simi Valley three years ago.

"We were taken by the loving, compassionate, inclusive feel Dennis created at the center and have been attending ever since," Ewing said.

Jones shares the same simple message as spiritual leaders Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie, Louis Haye and Jesus, Ewing said.

"Once Dennis helped me understand that God is all there is, life got a lot easier," Ewing said. "Thanks to Dennis and this teaching, I have an internal barometer that tells me when I am moving away from God."

Ewing said he does not see Jones moving on so much as broadening horizons.

"Dennis is expanding the awareness of God's presence in all," Ewing said. "He will do that wherever he goes. In leaving, he simply expands our circle. Dennis is about expanding awareness."

Congregant Ferne Saltzman of Northridge said she has been moved by the compassion and outreach within Jones' community.

Saltzman joined the congregation about four years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. "Having studied Science of Mind for many years, my husband and I sought out some spiritual support during my treatment and recovery," she said.

Jones and his staff "met with me, sent me cards and notes of encouragement," she said. "His talks inspired, encouraged and supported us, and gave me the help I needed to stay positive about my healing."

The future

After the pastor leaves his post at OneSpirit, Saltzman is among those who said she will continue to study through Jones. She said she'll depend on his books, his audiotapes and the notes she took during his classes.

"I intend to allow him to keep me focused on the blessings and positive things in life," she said.

Camarillo resident David Karen, a past treasurer at OneSpirit, concurred, adding praise for Jones helping him to understand how easy it is to apply spirituality in daily living without the organized religious connotations that were otherwise difficult for him to grasp.

"I will continue to engage Dennis as a life coach in all areas of my life," said Karen, who has known Jones for 15 years. "Dennis is a one-of-a-kind master at teaching fundamental principles of life and bringing spirituality into your life."

Cathy Austin of Camarillo, who joined OneSpirit in 2001, said she was immediately captured by Jones' vision and inspiration.

"He makes it simple to grasp deep and universal truths," she said. "He is able to touch and connect with your soul in a profound way.

"He has helped me with the ability to listen to my own inner voice and to follow my own dreams and aspirations."

New directions

Jones emphasized that he is not retiring.

"I am simply taking what I have to offer to the world in a new way — a way that has no walls, no fixed time schedules, no organization to manage and yet offers a wider palette of services I have developed over the past quarter-century," said Jones, who is the author of five books; the latest, published in April by Tarcher, is titled "The Art of Being — 101 Ways to Practice Purpose in Your Life."

The new book "is doing very well," Jones said, "and is affording me many opportunities to travel and present lectures and seminars on the topic of finding and developing one's purpose in life."

With a personal vision of "guiding people to purpose," he also offers life coaching, spiritual mentoring, sacred wedding ceremonies and "sacred travel journeys" where he takes small groups on tours to certain sites around the world that have spiritual significance.

"The one common aspect in all of the different things I will be taking to the world is there is a spiritual undergirding in all of it," Jones said. "I am not going to be out in the world promoting or selling religion. I will be promoting a way of life — a way of living life on purpose."