Our Clergy and Staff
Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong
Interim Senior Minister
The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong serves as Interim Senior Minister at Fourth Universalist. Before joining Fourth Universalist in September of 2023, Rev. Jonipher served as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Ministerial Credentialing Director. He also recently served as Congregational Life Staff for the Pacific Western Region and as the Program Leader for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) College of Social Justice.
Born and raised in the Philippines, most of Jonipher’s adult life was spent in California and Hawai’i. He served as the Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu—where former President Barack Obama went to Sunday School as a child. Rev. Jonipher founded ‘Ohana Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Honolulu, served as interim minister at Resurrection Beach MCC, and consulting minister at Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society and the Temecula Valley Unitarian Universalist Community. His nonprofit experience included serving as Executive Director of the Counseling & Spiritual Care Center of Hawai‘i and API Equality-LA.
Raised in an ecumenical background, Dr. Kwong values his pluralistic upbringing—from Evangelical to United Methodist, Episcopalian to Calvary Chapel. He was christened at a Gospel church and baptized as a Chinese Mennonite. In Hawai‘i, Jonipher was a member of the Honolulu Mindfulness Community, a sangha influenced by Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. Dr. Kwong obtained his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Claremont School of Theology. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Film Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Prior to getting ‘the call,’ Jonipher worked in the film industry for three years, followed by two years as a Graphics Specialist at McKinsey & Company in Los Angeles.
Rev. Dr. Leonisa Ardizzone
The Rev. Dr. Leonisa Ardizzone serves as an Affiliated Community Minister at Fourth Universalist. She holds degrees in biology (Ithaca College, BA), science education (Western Washington University, EdM), International Educational Development with a specialization in Peace Education (Columbia University, PhD), and inter-religious engagement (Union Theological Seminary, MDiv). Rev. Leonisa served the UU Congregation of the Catskills from 2019-2021. Drawn to youth and young adult ministry, she is a member of the faculty at Vassar College and founder and director of the Peace Education Center of the Hudson Valley (launched in fall 2021). Although Rev. Leonisa was ordained by Fourth Universalist in 2019, she became a member of the congregation back in 2011. At that time, she was volunteering in RE, curating the Jazz Vespers program, and leading a Buddhist-UU study group.
Prior to ministry, Rev. Leonisa taught in K-12 schools, ran a non-profit in NYC, owned her own business, and consulted with numerous organizations as a teacher educator and curriculum coach. She is also a writer and musician. Currently, she lives in Rosendale NY with her husband Michael and daughter Rafaella.
Rev. Jill Bowden
Rev. Jill Bowden serves as an Affiliated Community Minister at Fourth Universalist. She holds degrees from Mercy College (BS in psychology), Long Island University (Master of Public Administration in health care), and Union Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity). Rev. Jill retired from health care chaplaincy in the spring of 2021.
Rev. Jill is the former Director of Chaplaincy Services at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Before her position at Memorial Sloan, she was Director of Pastoral Care at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY. Previously a respiratory therapist and a health care administrator, Rev. Jill’s background provided significant experience in bedside care and health systems leadership, growth, and management.
Now relocated to southern California, Rev. Jill is available via telephone and Zoom for participation in virtual worship services, consultation, and pastoral care.
Rev. Mark Cutolo
Director of Religious Education
Ember Kelley joined Fourth Universalist as the Director of Religious Education in July 2020. She is a 2018 graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. Ember also holds a Masters and Bachelors in Theological Studies from Calvin Theological Seminary and Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Her life journey has taken her through Virginia, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Michigan, China, and Vietnam. These travels have fostered a desire for continuous learning, a better understanding of the world through a lens of faith, and the ability to communicate big ideas in relatable ways. Some of her recent experiences include working as a Youth Director, Ministerial Intern, and English Teacher. Her passions include social justice, LGBTQ+ issues, LGBTQ+ religious inclusion, religious trauma recovery, mindfulness, developing self-understanding, and creating and growing community through education.
Director of Membership and Hospitality
Soyal feels joyous and fortunate to serve Fourth Universalist as its Director of Membership and Hospitality. She was raised within the Unitarian Universalist faith from the age of 3 years old and couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to welcome folks into the tradition. She loves to engage with newcomers at Fourth Universalist and share with them what it’s like to be a part of this amazing community.
Soyal has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Performance Arts from SUNY New Paltz. With this background, she performs as a puppeteer for an ecologically centered non-profit theater company. She also has her Master’s in Public Administration (Public Management) from Marist College.
Soyal lives in Poughkeepsie, NY with her husband, daughter, and son. When she is not engaged with the Fourth Universalist community, Soyal spends her time coordinating activities for her home UU congregation, puppeteering, and relaxing with her family.
Sheila joined Fourth Universalist in November 2012. In her role as Executive Director she is responsible for Finances, Building and Human Resources, among a wide variety of tasks.
Sheila values the opportunity to serve the congregation in building community and social justice work.
Director of Administration
Melanie started attending Fourth Universalist in 2016 and joined as a member in 2017. After spending 13 years working in marketing, she was excited to transition to a role serving the community she loves as an administrator in 2021. She also works part-time as a therapist and life coach.
Melanie is active in social justice work both in the congregation and in the wider community. She feels fortunate to be able to support the mission of the congregation through her position on the staff as well as in volunteer positions.
Melanie enjoys road trips, playing guitar, and singing. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.
Director of Music
Robert T. Buonaspina is delighted to be joining the team as Director of Music at Fourth Universalist. Robert is a New York City based composer, arranger, producer/music director, conductor/bandleader, multi-instrumentalist (pianist, violist, organist, vocalist), and educator. In 2020, Robert received his Master’s degree in Jazz Composition from Manhattan School of Music, where he was a student of Jim McNeely and Phil Markowitz.
As a composer and arranger, Robert has had the honor of having his work performed around the world: with ensembles recently ranging from the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, all the way to prestigious institutions such as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine or even the Empire State Building for New York Fashion Week. In any and all deviations of his work as a composer/arranger and multi-instrumentalist, Robert has been fortunate to achieve collaborations or share the stage with many heavy hitters across the scene: including Grammy-winning producer Larry Klein, Chico Pinheiro, Lalah Hathaway, Vince Mendoza, Joel Ross, Veronica Swift, Steven Feifke, and many others.
Currently, Robert serves as Adjunct Lecturer of Music (Jazz & Commercial Arranging/Composition) at Hofstra University. Prior to his engagement at Fourth Universalist, Robert worked as Director of Music/organist for multiple years at many different houses of worship, mostly recently at St. Pancras Roman Catholic Church (Glendale, Queens).
“Beni” Benedite Dieujuste
Religious Education Assistant
Beni started attending Fourth Universalist during the summer of 2022. Although raised Catholic, Beni found a new home in Unitarian Universalism. Haitian born and NYC raised, Beni enjoys wandering around and finding new restaurants, reading on her Kobo, and cooking. She is excited to help cultivate a loving faith in the next generation.
Head of Nursery Ministry
Indra Payne emigrated to the US from South America in 1991. Ever since then, she has worked as a child caregiver, allowing her to build many deep and long-term relationships with families in New York City. She has been taking care of children at Fourth Universalist since 1995 and has two daughters who have also served the congregation’s families. Indra earned her GED after arriving in the U.S. and is now entering her 23rd year with our congregation.
Rehime Crain serves as the Sexton for Fourth Universalist. He graduated from Park West High School, where he especially enjoyed classes in the culinary arts. Rehime also studied Communications at New Rochelle College and would like to continue his studies to become a counselor.
Rehime serves his community by volunteering at West Harlem Pantry and enjoys spending his time going to the library, reading books, and spending time with his children.
Lead A/V Technician
Ilan Natter is thrilled to serve Fourth Universalist as the A/V Technician. As an audio engineer, Ilan is always looking for new opportunities to work with talented musicians. As a native New Yorker, Ilan is looking forward to helping bring the Upper West Side community together through sound and music.
Jose Rivera Hernandez
Evening Groups Coordinator
Jose grew up in Manhattan and has spent 14 years working as a steward of various buildings in the city. He has a passion for buildings, mechanics, and making environments more functional and pleasant for all inhabitants and visitors. Jose has a keen interest in nature, including hiking, camping, and natural medicine. Additionally, over the past 10 years, he has deepened his relationship with his indigenous roots in Puerto Rico, including teaching dancing, learning indigenous history, and volunteering after Hurricane Maria. Jose lives in upper Manhattan with his two huskies.
Lily Olas Carayannis
Lily is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary (MDiv) and is the Deputy Chief of Special Operations with the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, the City agency tasked with investigating police misconduct. She grew up in the mountains of Colorado and moved to New York City in 2010 to obtain a master’s degree in philosophy. Lily’s spiritual development has been informed by the ecology of the American wilderness and a career spent in service to vulnerable populations. She is currently an aspirant to UU Ministry. Lily focuses her ministry on ecology, animal liberation, trans rights, and police reform.
Erol King Delos Santos
Erol is currently a seminarian at Union Theological Seminary. He previously studied at Rutgers University, where he received an undergraduate degree in healthcare informatics and a masters of science degree in clinical trials sciences. Erol has attended Fourth Universalist since 2018 and officially joined the congregation as a member in April 2020. Currently, he lives in Harlem, NY.