The Halifax congregation that would within a decade be named after the Apostle Paul was established in 1749; its building rose at one end of the Grand Parade up the hill from the harbour the following summer. And that order of things is crucial when talking about sanctuary, for it is a community of faith—’the church’ that hallows the building we call ‘a church’ and makes its space into a sanctuary. In some Anglican traditions, only the elevated area containing the altar or table, used for liturgies of thanksgiving to God, is called a ‘sanctuary’. And in a crucial way ‘sanctuary’ has its greatest integrity when the church’s doors are open for public worship. But church buildings, in their entirety, have long been understood to be sanctuaries, a Christian commitment stemming from its Jewish roots.
A sanctuary is a place of refuge from danger, and many have entered St. Paul’s Church with that in mind since the mid-eighteenth century. In its early days the most obviously vulnerable have sought refuge, or been carried to it, during catastrophes—the injured, the dying, the dead. But over the decades others have continued to stream in—the hungry, the disoriented and distressed, the cold, the wanderer, the pilgrim, the tourist. The community of faith that is St. Paul’s carries this hallowed tradition forward today, for whoever would come in, Christian or other, religious or irreligious, humbled by its task. It keeps its doors open daily, the longest hours it can manage, in the heart of the old city, at one end of its largest public space, and receives whoever would enter the church proper, or its parish house. And it offers those who enter what it has—silence or personal prayer, public liturgy (worship) or public concerts, conversation or consultation or referral, food or rest.
Whoever you are, you are welcomed to enter our sanctuary.