Meris is a native Knoxvillian, a graduate of Gibbs High School and Pellissippi State. Meris’s pronouns are they/them/theirs. They say as a child, they were quiet and introverted, spending a lot of time alone outdoors. Meris was raised a Southern Baptist, but found difficulty with the faith as they had to believe and practice certain doctrine. After experiencing issues with making friends, fitting in, and ultimately receiving criticism of some of their choices as a teenager, Meris left that church.
Meris married a man in 2000 and had a son at the age of 31 with him. When they came out as gay in 2018 at the age of 38, the marriage failed and sent them searching for a new circle of support and friends. After looking online for an LGBTQ-welcoming faith community in 2019, they read about TVUUC and decided to visit.
They found the congregation, especially those who sat nearby, welcoming and accepting. “Nobody pushed me into believing anything and I could just be myself. That affirming spirit meant a lot to me. I felt safe in exploring who I really was, developing my beliefs and values at my own pace.” They have been attending TVUUC ever since, either online during COVID or in person.
During the week they work as a retention specialist and job coach for Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville. Meris provides coaching on-the-job for individuals who have intellectual or emotional disabilities which in turn helps each person retain their employment.
What church activities are you involved in?
“I started out on the Flower Committee and then prior to COVID showed interest in volunteering as a worship assistant. Participating in worship services helped me come out of my shell a bit. As the church began meeting in person again, I was fortunate to begin working with high school students in the RE Coming of Age class that helped young people explore their values and beliefs in a safe environment – something I didn’t have access to as a child.” Meris also participated in the Interfaith Pride Service in 2022, helping to spread a message of acceptance and love to the LGBTQ community here in East Tennessee.
What do you get from TVUUC?
“I have a beloved community (really more of beloved family) here. I didn’t have many friends or felt like I belonged anywhere before, but since I began attending TVUUC I’m accepted, welcomed, and loved just as I am. This is a place where I fit in. I can explore my own beliefs and have open conversations about values, ideas, and ‘the big issues’. Right now I consider myself as pantheistic which helps me connect with my love of nature. I am working to develop some spiritual practices that will help bring me peace and centeredness in times of distress. Being at TVUUC has also helped me be open and accepting of my 11-year old son’s evolving beliefs which are different from my own.” He has a dual membership with a Baptist church as well as TVUUC.