She’s not as frequent a churchgoer as she used to be — her current job might have something to do with that — but Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says Fairlawn Avenue United Church, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, will always hold a special place in her heart.
Wynne joined the church, then called Fairlawn United, in 1981, soon after moving to North Toronto with her then-husband Phil Cowperthwaite.
“I had a 10-month-old and a two-year-old, and I was looking for a place where I could be myself and introduce my kids to a church community,” the lifelong United Church of Canada member says.
While Wynne admits she started attending Fairlawn United because it was “down the street,” she says she’s remained because of the community.
“The minister at the time, his name was Frank Meadows, and he was a very open and accepting man, and that’s what I was looking for,” she recalled. “He was open to having discussions about social issues, and for me… social issues are very much a part of my faith base.
“It’s what I look for in a congregation: to focus outside the walls of church,” she continued. “And I found that at Fairlawn.”
Soon she was involved in church activities ranging from a seat on the executive board to helping prepare supper for Ash Wednesday to chairing and volunteering for multiple event committees.
“I always served on committees when my kids were little,” Wynne says. “It felt like a community that I could take part in.”
Her children were all christened at Fairlawn United, which was renamed Fairlawn Avenue United in 2005, and Wynne herself was confirmed there.
“I was christened at Richmond Hill United, and that was all well and good, but I had made a decision that I wasn’t going to be confirmed at that point, because I wasn’t ready,” she says. “So when my kids were being christened, I actually went through the process.”
The support Wynne felt from the Fairlawn community remained when she and her husband separated, partner Jane Rounthwaite moved in with her family, and Cowperthwaite moved into a home across the yard.
As Wynne’s three children began shuttling between parents, the church community welcomed their alternative family, with Rounthwaite joining the congregation in the early 1990s.
“They were very accepting, and for the most part, nonjudgmental, and that was very important to me in that period as I went through that transition, which is not an easy one for a family,” Wynne says.
In 2005 Wynne and Rounthwaite were married at Fairlawn Avenue United, the ceremony overseen by then-minister David Lander.
It’s no surprise to Wynne that the United Church — and by extension, Fairlawn Avenue United — has remained at the forefront of many social justice issues, including LGBTQ rights, affordable housing, income inequality, and multicultural diversity.
“I’m excited to be part of that,” she says. “I will not always be the Premier of Ontario… I love this job, but I look forward to a time when I will be able to reconnect with my church in a more ongoing way.”
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