By definition, a Unitarian believes in one God but rejects the theology of the trinity and the divinity of Christ. A Universalist believes in universal salvation in which a loving God could not condemn any soul to eternal damnation. Over the course of American History, the two merged their liberal Christian roots into a religion known as Universal Unitarianism. Semantics aside, pigeonholing any exact doctrine to this affiliation is several times removed from the actual intent, according to Reverend Dr. Michael Tino of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester on Route 172 in Mt. Kisco, New York
"We believe it'smore important to come together as a community than it is to believe the same thing," he says. Describing himself as a "third generation, lapsed Catholic," his personal belief in the after life certainly seems different from what might be assumed of someone heading up a ministry.
Definitely no white robes or clouds above the sky, he believes our transformed molecules are spread across the universe and the essence of who we were becomes part of those that remain. "The lives that we leave behind and the relationships that we've made, that's how are consciousness lives on," he says.
Once again, though, that's a feeling he shares, not a doctrine he demands as the theologically educated professional at the pulpit, but trying to make sense of the biochemical breakdown of the soul isn't what moved him to put aside his PhD in Cell Biology for the ministry.
Still fascinated by science and how it's enabled him to think critically on any subject, he realized very late in his studies how unfulfilling it would be as a career. I really needed a career where I was involved in community building a just society, and the more I thought about what I felt called to do, the more it matched up with what a minister does, he said.
In turn, having a flock that follows from a similar mindset certainly helps qualify his choice. They are involved locally with causes such as Mt. Kisco Food Pantry and Neighbor's Link, and nationally, a youth trip to New Orleans to rebuild homes is also the norm. "We actually put up walls," he said, and demonstrated the power we all have to make the world a better place, he added.
Aligned with the activism, his calling also came with a need to create a place where people could be exactly who they are and feel accepted without condition. For instance,many married couples find their way to Unitarian Universalism because their different faiths cannot be incorporated into one church. Once children follow, he says, they want to bring them up in a way that allows all of their religious heritage to be appreciated, not just part of it.
For long time member Paul Fargis, who was educated in Catholic Schools all the way through college, edited a 150 volume Catholic Encyclopedia and was the vice president of the Catholic Historical Society, gravitation away from Catholicism could be put quite succinctly. "I thought the patriarchal approach was not about to change anytime soon, he says.
Leaving the church behind 40 years ago, Unitarian Universalism suffices in a spiritual sense also. "I find the ideas that it explores and the messages it gives is very renewing," he says. The open-ended approach also appeals. "It listens as well as it teaches," he says, and explores the whole of idea of why we are here, he added.
That again engenders a community that advocates for change and at least one intersection occurs that is very near to its minister's human condition. With his partner of 10 years, the hopeful end of marriage inequality will signal a change in Reverend Tino's marital status. "I am very much looking forward to it," he says, while it was clear that marriage rights are among the many issues that the church advocates for both nationally and locally.
Generally, Gay Marriage is an issue members agree upon, but dissenting dialogue from within and out is paramount. For instance, he's aware that the Catholic Church holds a different view on Stem Cell research, but human cloning is a line he also wouldn't want to cross with them. Either way, he says, there has to be ethical debate and I think that religions need to be involved.
On the inside, he may initiate discussions but even in this area of his own scientific expertise, he knows that his opinion will blend into the background with everyone else's. "I don't ever get the last word on anything," he says, but that's a good thing, he concludes.