Chris Nygren, Minister of Outdoor Sacred Spaces

Rev. Chris Nygren, Ph.D., discovered UCP's beautiful forest labyrinth when she moved to the area from Michigan. A lifelong practitioner of new thought, she joined UCP in 2018. Rev. Chris became an ordained interfaith/inter-spiritual minister with One Spirit Seminary in 2022, a journey that included Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute coursework.

Rev. Chris serves as the UCP Minister of Outdoor Sacred Spaces and is a member of the Spiritual Leadership Team. She speaks regularly at UCP and the Unity Center of Montreal. Retired from a career in higher education innovation, Rev. Chris stewards mountain land nearby and enjoys being with her adult daughters and family who all live in the area. Rev. Chris is an artist, shamanic practitioner, certified practitioner of Esoteric (energy) Healing, and leader of mystical and mindful outdoor experiences. Her first book will be published in 2024.

You can find what's offered in UCP's Outdoor Sacred Spaces on the Facebook Group GO HERE.




Shannon Preto, YED (Youth and Family Ministry)

My name is Shannon Preto, and I am the new YFM teacher and director. I’d like to introduce myself, give you a little bit of my background and what I am bringing to this role as the YFM teacher. Currently, I work as a pediatric occupational therapist with Emerge Pediatric Therapy in Carrboro, NC. I’ve been in this job since August 1, 2023 when I moved from San Francisco, California. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area for 21 years, and after a couple of big life ‘transitions’, decided to move out of San Francisco and into the Triangle. I moved here primarily because my best friend lives here, and what better way to begin building a community than with, and ‘through’, someone who’s been here for more than 25 years. It’s taken me about six months to adjust to a different pace of life and type of weather, but I’m enjoying the multitude of opportunities here, e.g. cultural, gustatory, and natural.

Read more: Shannon Preto, YED (Youth and Family Ministry)


Kris Whitenack, Music Director

Kris was born in Seattle Washington and lived in Enumclaw Washington until he was 16.  Kris was frequently cast as Scrooge, and gave his first “sermon“ at the age of 12 in the Presbyterian Church.  At 16 he moved to Edina Minnesota, then at 17 to LaCrossse Wisconsin where he finished high school and his first year of college. He went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota and moved to Chapel Hill where he taught music at Carolina Friends School for 15 years.  For the last 20 years Kris has been performing as a soloist and ensemble player in the world of popular music.  

Kris is our UCP Music Director and continues to teach and perform music in the Southeast region. He hopes to finish writing his first book, and write and record another album next year. He lives in Durham with his wife Cathy and his beloved cats Sultan and Murphy, and regal hound Greta. 


Mel Caron, Sunday Assistant

Mel has been with Unity Center of Peace since 2016. Mel started her studies with Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institude in 2019 and is enrolled in the Spiritual Direction Program seeking a degree in Spiritual Direction. Mel has a keen awareness to how Spirit works through all aspects of life and shares a calm and accepting nature with everyone she meets.

Mel serves on the UCP We've Got Your Back Team and is our Sunday Assistant. She lives in Durham with her wife Jude and they are devoted dog moms. Mel currently works as an HR Headhunter by profession. 

When you are here on Sunday for our Celebration Service be sure to pop into the office to say hi to Mel. She will greet you with a warm smile and kind and nurturing heart.


Marea Kavanagh, Board President

Marea comes to UCP with a wide variety of career and family experiences that center around health, wellness and creating unique and memorable experiences. After receiving her Bachelor of Commerce degree from The University of Guelph, Ontario in Hotel & Food Management, she spent 10 years opening and operating unique restaurant concepts in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Boston.

While living in the UK, Marea pursued her passion for Homeopathy and received her Bachelor of Science of Homeopathy in 2015 at the Centre for Homeopathic Education at Middlesex University. She now operates her own practice in Chapel Hill, working with individuals and families locally and nationwide via telehealth, helping to optimize their well being through Homeopathy.

Marea has been a member of UCP since 2015 along with her husband Brad, son Joshua (20) and daughter Olivia (16). They have enjoyed many years of gratifying personal and spiritual growth as part of this community. Marea is active on the Sacred Activism team, the Prosperity team, and the Wisdom Council. She has also served on the Board of Trustees since 2018 and is currently serving as Board President.  One of the great joys in her life is the opportunity to serve and contribute to the vibrant growth of our Unity Center Peace community.  


Joann Comis, Treasurer

JoAnn is a relatively new member to the UCP community but not new to the Unity principles. At a very young age she was introduced to the “Daily Word” Unity publication which provided intentional  guideposts for a supportive and spiritual map in meeting life’s challenges. To this day- she never leaves the house without her “Daily Word” in her heart or handbag.

A native of Iowa and a “farm girl”, JoAnn learned early on the importance of being a  good neighbor regardless of the form it takes. Those mid- west values led her to become an ardent supporter of community and to serve in a variety of volunteer activities including; Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle, founding board member and public relations leader ( 2000-20O6), City of Durham- District PAC 3 president and various committees ( 2008 - 2013) and University Estates Neighborhood Assoc. , organized 100+ neighbors to form a  “Neighborhood Watch” program (2004-2010).


Katy O'Leary Bagai, Vice President

Introduced to Unity at a young age by her mom, Katy grew up playing under the redwoods in Northern California. She migrated to North Carolina in 1998 with her two children to attend UNC, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Latin American Studies focusing on Brazilian Sociology, and a Minor in Portuguese. She has spent a lot of time in Brazil, so don’t be surprised if you see her dancing the Samba on the Serenity Trail!  

Katy worked for a long time as a real estate broker until she followed her heart and opened a salon in Southern Village Chapel Hill in 2015. Through the last 10 years as a student of shamanism, she has made it her soul purpose to mentor people, and having the salon has been an amazing vehicle to do that.  

She also started the fire ceremonies at UCP, and you may have met her chanting and playing the drum during one of the traditional Peruvian ceremonies she does here a few times a year. Staying true to the indigenous wisdom of her master teachers, she also helps people to step into their own power and beat their own drum by giving Shamanism classes, harnessing the knowledge she gained from training in the medicine ways of the Andean Paqos in Peru. The role of the Paqo in their village is to create balance and harmony by performing sacred service through unconditional love and divine intelligence, and to practice that throughout life for the benefit of all. Katy is excited and honored to be able to bring her heart and mind to the board of trustees, in sacred service to the UCP community. 


Cheryl Stevens, Secretary

Cheryl is a passionate seeker of Truth and has spent over 10 years studying New Thought and Ancient Wisdom principles and applying them to her life. As a leader in the field of talent development and career strategy for 25 years, she has helped people achieve both personal and professional success. She has a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Work experience has included being Vice President/Corporate Officer of Career & Talent Management for Education Management Corporation, Director of Career Management at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Assistant Director at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Her current focus is coaching leaders and teams on how to lead and live from their true authentic self through use of the Eneagram.

UCP has given Cheryl the wonderful opportunity to be part of a group of divine beings. She feels honored and excited about being asked to serve on the Board and is ready to commit to this significant responsibility. Cheryl wants to use her skills and experience to contribute at a meaningful level and to help our community to grow.


Chris Egle, Trustee

Having studied with shamans and healers in North and Central America, Chris has a very deep connection and appreciation for that which goes unseen in most people’s lives. The natural abundance of the world continuously amazes him. A joyier at heart, Chris seeks to brighten his life as well as any who cross paths with him through listening, insight, humor, and artistic expression.