By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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After 23 years, spiritual leader moving on

Brian Mount / Special to The Ventura County Star: Sunday's sermon will be Dennis Merritt Jones' last as leader of OneSpirit Center for Conscious Living, which he started in 1985.

July 19, 2008/Ventura County Star

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."

Minister gives 'purpose' message

At some point in life, many people start to question their purpose and others even go on a quest to find answers, said Dennis Merritt Jones, founding minister of the OneSpirit Center for Conscious Living in Simi Valley.

The conscious pursuit to "be on purpose" every moment of every day is the premise of his new book, "The Art of Being: 101 Ways to Practice Purpose in Your Life." The book was released April 17 by Tarcher/Penguin.

"I wrote this book because I discovered that people just like me are seeking deeper meaning in their lives and an understanding of their purpose for being on the planet," said Jones, 59, of Simi Valley, who will have a book signing at 7 p.m. Friday at Borders in Simi Valley.

"People desperately want to know that who they are and that they do matters," Jones said. "The Art of Being' offers those with open minds and willing hearts the opportunity to not only discover who they are and what their purpose for being is but also the tools to activate their purpose every day of their lives."

The book features 101 writings offering "insights on how to understand one's purpose in life and how to practice it 365 days a year," said Jones, who created a six-week study guide on his Web site for free download to those who want to facilitate "being on purpose" study groups in their homes and churches.

A Ventura County resident since 1977, Jones has been married to his wife, Diane, for 14 years. He has a 23-year-old daughter, a 35-year-old stepson, a 39-year-old stepdaughter and two grandchildren, ages 12 and 15.

An influence to inquire

Jones was raised Methodist until he was about 13, when his parents became disenchanted with the dogma and politics of structured church, "and we began having our own family services in our living room at home," he said.

"That break from the traditional church became the entry point into metaphysics and the study of Western and Eastern mysticism for my parents, which has at some level clearly trickled down to me," he said.

As the founding minister of the OneSpirit Center for Conscious Living, he will leave that position Aug. 1 to create more time to spread his message through books, seminars, keynote speaking, coaching, mentoring and leading Sacred Journeys travel groups around the world.

Among those who will benefit most from "The Art of Being," he said, are people who want to deepen their sense of the sacred in everyday life, those seeking inner peace and those wanting to find direction, meaning and purpose in their lives.

Diverse list of heroes

"My personal vision is to guide people to their purpose," said Jones, who lists among his greatest influences Dr. Ernest Holmes, Jesus, Buddha, Rumi, Lao-tzu, Gary Zukav and Deepak Chopra.

Shannon Wharton of Newbury Park said each chapter in "The Art of Being" is designed to help people become more aware of themselves in ways they may have never thought of before.

"What I like about this book is that Dennis writes in a way that allows each reader to visualize, connect and respond in his or her own way," Wharton said.

In today's world, many people are in a rush and worry about not having enough time, she added.

"Each chapter in this book only takes a few minutes to read and by doing so people are able to stop for a few minutes, slow their life down, reflect and feel God's grace," Wharton said.

The book is especially timely, as more people are looking for a deeper spiritual experience, said Stuart Azarchi of Hamilton, N.J.

"Many are tired of attending church and being lectured on right or wrong behavior," he said. "This book will help introduce many people to a more open and involved spiritual experience without the moralizing aspect. We all know inside of us what the truth is; we just need a means to access it."

Reverend Dennis Jones, 58, leader of the One Spirit Center for Conscious Living, speaks with a follower of the church during his Sunday service, July 13, 2008. (Brian Mount / Special to the Star)

Photo courtesy of Tarcher/Penguin
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