As I sit and reflect on the time I’ve spent at Sanctuary here in Toronto, my mind conjures up a host of images and experiences. But the underlying theme that unites them all is the community found here!

Now don’t get me wrong, the Sanctuary community doesn’t mean a bunch of people are standing around a campfire singing Kumbaya. The nature of the community means that things can get messy at times. The problems that plague some “friends from the street” mean that nerves are often on edge, tensions can run high and arguments can get heated. You never know what the day may bring, and new challenges always arise.

Toronto, like any other city, contains a variety of people living on the margins. It's up to us, who claim Christ, to shed light in those lives.

But I also see the ways staffers approach their friends from the street. They foster community through a host of intentional means.

They purposefully don’t put many signs up in the place, as you might find in most public places. They want people talking to staff and each other, seeking information from people, not signs.

They serve food “family style” so that people must talk to their neighbor, asking for items and passing the plates of food. They want their friends working in the kitchen and serving the food. There is dignity in the activity. They even sing Happy Birthday once a month to all who have an upcoming birthday. This is dignity.

They go on weekly “outreach walks,” where seasonal supplies are handed out to folks they find on the streets and in the alleys. The items aren’t why they do it however, the people and the ongoing relationships are.

Whether I was at the Christmas concert or otherwise, I got a taste of the new model of the Church community...or better yet, a renewed model.

Even during their weekly staff meeting, they always partake in communion and underscore the collective effort shared by all. And that effort is recognized by those they serve.

“This place is so different from the others,” I overheard a woman tell another. “They don’t treat you like you’re below them. They treat you like a real person.”

“This place isn’t all stuffy,” said another man at another time. “You don’t have to have your ass-puckered up to go inside the place. It’s really different. I mean, no offense to them, but when I first came, I didn’t even know it was a church!”

Another man made a similar statement, even if he didn’t use words. During two different Sunday-night services, he was passed out just inside the doorway of the main sanctuary. Periodically, throughout each service, you could hear him snorting and grunting amid his deep slumber. But nobody seemed to care, and it was a wonderful thing.

“He’s adding to the service, whether he knows it or not,” said one of the staffers. “He’s contributing to the community.”

Wow. This is Sanctuary. And what a blessing it’s been to have the opportunity to spend time with these folks!

While many in the Church prefer to think of the body of Christ as being composed of a bunch of well-manicured fingers and pearly-white smiles, the fact is, it has many different parts. And Sanctuary treasures them all.

A Motley Crew

There were clean faces and dirty, combed hair and disheveled. There were designer clothes and tattered. This…this is the body of Christ.

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That’s God, That’s God, That’s God – Part I

By all accounts, Patrick should be dead. But the fact that he’s sitting here tells a different story.

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That’s God, That’s God, That’s God – Part II

There’s something special about being embraced and loved by a whole bunch of messy people.

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Camping in the Concrete Jungle

There’s no place like home… and this ain’t it.

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Photo Gallery: Community is at the Core

Day in and day out, week in and week out, Sanctuary is providing a variety of programs and activities focused on the heart of their mission…community. But it’s not just any community. Its essence is found in those overlooked by most. Many of its community members, those “friends from the street,” are living in the […]

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Once a Stranger, Now a Brother

I was humbled and inspired by the prayer of this earnest stranger.

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Kingdom of the Broken

I’m not worthy, as I’m haunted by my own brokenness. But therein lies the blessing.

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About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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  1. Kevin said... 


    January 2nd, 2012 at 11:05 pm  

    well done series, stephen
    it makes me stop and consider where i fall short in my consideration for all God’s children
    we need more sanctuaries and it begins with our own attitudes and grace for others
    thanks for the eye opener

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