At 14, an age where many girls are playing with dolls, Bishop Audrey Bronson was preaching the gospel. Now 70 years later, she’s still going strong.
Bronson, 84, the pastor and founder of Sanctuary Church of the Open Door, was honored on Saturday, Oct. 18 from 5-9 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, 2349 Marlton Pike in Cherry Hill, N.J.
She can vividly recall her path to the pulpit.
“My parents moved up here from Florida when we were 14-years-old. Before I finished high school I felt this calling to preach,” she said.
She was a member of the Church of God at that time and discussed this with her pastor at the time who allowed her to preach her first sermon.
“It was not a testimony, it was a sermon and he let me have the whole night,” she recalled.
“I remembered the first sermon that I preached and it was about David and Goliath and I guess I felt subconsciously that I was David going up against Goliath being a little kid standing up in front of all those people,” said Bronson with a laugh.
David and Goliath is a Biblical account of a young man who fought against a giant warrior. With the help of God, David used a sling shot to defeat Goliath.
Bronson said friends, family and members of the church turned out to hear preach and filled the pews.
“From that point on the people started asking to preach at youth days and stuff like that. I preached in Camden, I preached in Woodbury, N.J., I preached in Norristown, all over,” she said.
She was a junior in high school then.
These years in ministry were not without ups and downs. Bronson reflected on the time when she preached the going away sermon of the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris who was the first woman Bishop of the Episcopal Church and later elected to the position of Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts.
“I was asked to preach her going away sermon and I thought that was a great honor,” said Bronson.
Her lowest moment?
“I think my lowest point would be when I went somewhere to preach and they would not let me use the pulpit,” said Bronson.
While Bronson said the minister had no problem with her ministering at the church, their Bishop did not believe women should preach.
This happened at a church in Camden, N.J. but Bronson said such obstacles were not common.
“For the most part I was given the honor of using the pulpit but this one place just didn’t believe in that,” she said.
Bronson said she has seen significant changes in the church. One of those things is the growth of television ministry.
“I see a change in the direction of the preaching and I see that this change has been influenced by television ministry,” said Bronson. “I think the idea [in television ministry] is to look out for self, how you can be successful; we tend to have forgotten about our fellow man.”
Bronson recalled the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s ministry in which she said he engaged in selfless service, leaving everything he had and put the needs of others first.
“It’s not that way anymore, the younger crowd isn’t that way and that disturbs me,” she said.
Bronson said King would walk among the poor and the underprivileged giving of himself.
“Now we have this thing going on, this gospel of success, which there is nothing wrong with that but we put too much emphasis on it and when you succeed you are supposed to reach back and help your fellow-man.”
Bronson knows about service. In 1975 she opened the Sanctuary Church of the Open Door and later its Christian Academy.
She has served on the MOVE Commission and has worked as an advocate for prisoners and has previously served as president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Inc.
“My thing now is doing ministry beyond the walls of the church,” said Bronson. “That’s where it is really needed and the crazy things that are happening in our community bothers me to a great extend; how can we reach these people and what can we do?”