From its humble beginnings in 1975, with just 12 members, Sanctuary Church of the Open Door has greatly expanded its ministry membership, community outreach and personal impact in transforming the lives of its members. Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Audrey F. Bronson, founder/bishop/senior pastor, Sanctuary Church of the Open Door is reaping a bountiful harvest.
For 37 years, Bronson, a Florida native, has punctuated her ministry legacy in Philadelphia in faithfully serving the community as a community advocate, educator, entrepreneur, and minister of the Gospel.
Commenting about her being a female Bishop and pastoral leader in a traditionally male dominated leader role, Bronson said, “I cannot complain, because I actually have the respect of all the ministers and Black Clergy.”
She explained that her struggles weren’t with her male counterparts.
“I did not have any problems with the males, I may have had a couple of problems with a few females” she mused with laughter.
Brons served as president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia for two and a half years. The normal tenure for a president is two years, but she stepped in to complete the last six months of her predecessor’s term when he resigned.
Discussing her hallmarks leading the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, Bronson said, “One of the things I was really proud of, in addition to other stuff that we were doing, we had a prison seminar at Palmer Theological Seminary. The place was jammed packed, and we used the book [“The New Jim Crow”] that was written by Michelle Alexander. She came down and lectured for us and we had a panel discussion by various people.”
Alexander is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, a civil rights advocate, and the author. The prison seminar “was the hallmark of my administration [with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia],” said Bronson.
Bronson is cut from a scholarly fabric. “My father (Dr. Uriah Perry Bronson) was a minister, plus he was a principal of a school.”
Her brother, Dr. Oswald P. Bronson, was a senior pastor of several methodist churches and the former president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga. She said her brother, “was also president of Bethune-Cookman College, and my mother was a teacher.”
She credits her scholarly accomplishments and motivation to her family who were great examples for her.
“I received my Bachelor’s degree from Cheyney University,” she said. “And then I got a master’s degree in psychology from Howard University. I did my Ph.D. work there.”
Bronson earned her Doctor of Ministry degree from New York Theological Seminary and she holds a Doctor of Divinity degree from Bethune-Cookman College and a Doctor of Humane Letters from the National Theological Seminary and College.
Yeneeka Long, 32, was raised at Sanctuary. “It’s the only active church affiliation she has had.
“Currently, I’m one of the youth leaders for the youth ministry, I also sing on the Sanctuary Choir,” she said.
Long sang with the children’s choir when she was younger and she is the vice president of the Children’s Gospel Choir. She said working with youth is in her blood.
Long is elated about the community activism of the church’s evangelism team.
“We actually have a Tract Attack ministry,” said Long of the evangelistic ministry that goes out into the community to share gospel literature and witness for Jesus Christ.
“I’ve been a member for about 25 years,” said Gertrude Curry, 92, a former president of the Mothers Board. Curry migrated from Chester and she’s been a long term resident of Philadelphia. She is currently bereaving the recent loss of her son Stacy Montgomery, who was 71-years-old. Curry said he’d been a member of Sanctuary since 1989.
Commenting on Bishop Bronson’s ministry, Curry said, “she never put-downs her people. Bishop is a no-nonsense person. She’s somebody that you can go to [with your private matters for counsel.]”
Owen Wooten, Sr., a member of Sanctuary since 1988 and chairman of the trustees board said, “Sanctuary Church of the Open Door is a sanctuary for any and everyone. Our doors are open to everyone.”
Wooten has been very active in the church.
“I was president of the usher board, 12 years.” he said. . I’ve been on the trustees board, 15 years. I’ve been the president of the Male Chorus and president of the Men’s Fellowship.”
Wooten is very proud of the community outreach of the Overcomers for Christ ministry, an outreach group that serves people with various addictions.
“We minister to each other, and we help each other by sharing,” he said. “If you share something that you’ve experienced, it may help someone to not go in that same [negative] direction.”
He’s also proud of the pantry ministry saying, “they serve the community by giving them food as needed, as part of our missionary ministry.”
What Wooten likes most about Bishop Bronson is that, “she’s one of the most exceptional preachers,” he said. “She’s a preacher, teacher and friend. She always leaves you with a good message or thought.”
In September 1978, Bronson created Sanctuary Christian Academy. The school houses pre-school to sixth grade classes. An abridged list of ministries at Sanctuary include:
- Sanctuary Bible Institute.
- Sanctuary Family Resource Center and Referral Service.
- Dunlap Apartment Complex.
- Sanctuary Outreach Ministries (i.e., Athletic, Evangelistic, Missionary, Prisons, Tract Attack, Overcomers for Christ).
Robyn Pettiford has been a member for 17 years, and her husband, Brennon, has been a member for eight years. They have been married for five years. Bishop Bronson has been a great positive influence in Robyn’s life.
“She’s a great role model,” said Robyn Pettiford. “She’s a leader, [and] she carries herself in an excellence. She’s an educator and she leads by example.”
The Pettifords are part of the married couples ministry. Robyn, 41, said that the married couples ministry is all about being honest and transparent.
“They don’t paint a picture of marriage being perfect,” she said. “They help you to overcome different obstacles. The elderly (couples) let you know that it’s not easy and that it takes a lot of work. I applaud them.”
Brennon, 44-year-old construction worker, enjoys working with the young men at the church, and he too, cites Bronson as a role model.
“What I like the most about my pastor is, she’s straight-up,” he said. “She’s all about business, she doesn’t pull any punches. She’s going to give it to you the way its supposed to be given to you. With my background, coming from the streets — trying to do the right thing, she’s there for you. She has an open heart.”
On the topic of marriage, Brennon said, “everybody goes through different things, the ultimate sacrifice is, it’s not about us, it’s about what’s good in God’s eyes. Everything happens for a reason, Rome wasn’t built overnight. You’re going to have struggles, so if you’re going to struggle, struggle trying to do the will of God.”