David & Mary Jo Holden

David and Mary Jo Holden


Dave and Mary Jo came to Knoxville in 1978. Both were “flat-landers.” Dave was from southern Minnesota, Mary Jo from central Ohio, and they met in graduate school at the University of Kansas. At that time they were unchurched. After moving to central Illinois, where Dave took a job teaching English at Illinois State University, they started a family—and soon realized that they needed to be part of a community of friends, such as a church community. But which church? After considering a Quaker meeting and Unitarianism (Dave already knew about Emerson and the Transcendentalists), they settled on the Unitarian church in Bloomington-Normal, soon becoming members and enrolling their daughter Lisa in the RE program.

By the time Dave and Mary Jo moved to Knoxville, joining a Unitarian church was a top priority, both for themselves and Lisa, so they immediately joined Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church (now TVUUC). Dave pursued a career first in continuing education at UT and later at the Knox County Office on Aging. Mary Jo, after Lisa was well established in elementary school, also went to work at UT. Over the intervening 40+ years, TVUUC has been a kind of homeplace and anchor for them, a place to learn, worship, teach, and, sometimes, just hang out. Lisa benefited from the RE program, where she developed a close peer group. There were a large number of children her age, and that made a big difference for her. Dave and Mary Jo say that it’s impossible to imagine what their lives would have been like without a Unitarian community. Both of them have always felt comfortable in Unitarian churches, even though, theologically, they’re atheists.

Mary Jo and Dave have also been glad to contribute to the church in many ways. Mary Jo was very active in the RE program for many years, serving on the RE committee and two RE Director search committees. She also chaired an annual Stewardship campaign and served on the Personnel committee. Dave has taught Sunday school, helped with several annual canvasses and served on the Nominating committee. Both Mary Jo and Dave have been on the Board. And, of course, they have contributed financially as well.

Mary Jo and Dave feel that TVUUC is still an essential part of their lives, but lately they have been feeling somewhat detached, mostly because of COVID. They watched Sunday services online, but for them it wasn’t the same as being in the sanctuary. They’re glad they can be more involved now, connecting with people again. There are many new people they’d like to get to know better as well as an entire younger generation they’d like to learn about and learn from.