Sanctuary is defined as “a place of refuge or safety.” For over 40 years, Sanctuary Church of the Open Doors has been such a place for the people of Philadelphia.
Founded by Bishop Audrey F. Bronson, Sanctuary Church of the Open Door provides not only a place where people can feel free to worship their God as they see fit but also a place where the physical needs of the community are met.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” said Bronson.
Bronson was a professor at Cheyney University when she got “the call” to the ministry, and despite her love for the classroom and students, she had to make a choice: Heed the call or remain an educator at Cheyney.
“I carried both of them for awhile until the church grew and I had to give up one or the other,” said Bronson.
As any reader of the Book of Jonah can tell you, it’s not a good idea to go left when God says go right. The Book of Jonah is an account of an Old Testament prophet called to preach the Word to a particular nation of people he wasn’t inclined to have contact with, so he ran the other way and ended up in the proverbial “belly of the beast.”
Bronson didn’t need to be so persuaded.
“I wasn’t going to give up church,” she said.
Sanctuary was located at 60th Street and Larchwood Avenue until it outgrew the accommodations and moved to its current location on Walnut Street. The relocation was ideal because, for a minister and an educator, the new facility had enough space to accommodate the church’s school.
“At one time we had a school here that went up to the eighth grade, but then the principal passed away and I tried to get a principal that could understand what we were about, and I couldn’t find one,” Bronson said.
“They were all secular and this is not a secular situation so we kind of closed it down for awhile until we can regroup again,” she said.
Prior to leaving the Larchwood location, Sanctuary would worship at one place and operate its school at a separate location. The move to Walnut Street allowed them to combine the two services for the community until the death of the principal.
“We saw this and it’s kind of consolidated everything,” Bronson said.
Sanctuary was always known for its services to the community, which continue to this day with activities such as food and clothing giveaways, an active missionary ministry, a youth department and a host of activities intended to serve the community and edify its members.
And they are also socially active.
“We do a lot of things. We try to encourage people to vote. We really preach on that — go vote. If you need someone to take you, we’ll do that,” Bronson said.
In keeping with its name, Sanctuary Church of the Open Door literally open its doors to various individuals, groups and organizations that need a place to meet.
“Sometimes the people in the neighborhood want to use our church to discuss issues, so we try to be a community church,” Bronson said.
At 89 years old, Bronson has a long, distinguished history in ministry, having been preaching since the age of 14, and shows no signs of slowing down.
“That’s 70-something years that I’ve been preaching so over all that time it’s hard to say what the highlight of my ministry was. I think it was when we purchased this church for $155,000. That’s all we paid for this building,” she said when asked what she considered to be the highest point of her ministry.
“Marching from Larchwood over here, I think, was the highlight,” she said.
The low point was when the church burned down.
“We got burned out, but we got it fixed back up,” she said.
Asked to describe the congregation of Sanctuary, Bronson said the members consisted of a “group of people that love freedom.”
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Source: Philadelphia Tribune