History of African Americans  in Buffalo

Bethel AME Church
Previous Church Name:
Presbyterian Church of the Covenant
1525 Michigan Avenue, corner of East Ferry, Buffalo, NY

Bethel AME Church - Official Website
  (online Sept. 2020)

Original religious building on the site:
Union Chapel, built by the Cold Springs Union Sunday School in 1867
Second church on the site: Presbyterian Church of the Covenant
Built: 1902-1903
Architect: Howard Osgood Holand
Style:  English Gothic Revival
Year of purchase by Bethel AME:
Bethel AME locations:
  • Washington & Carroll Sts. (1831-1838);
  • 17 Vine St. (1839-1927)
  • 551 Eagle St. (1928- 1952)
  • 1525 Michigan Ave.(1953-present)
Bethel AME previous names:
  • Named Colored Methodist Society/Church in its early years.
  • Named Vine St. M.E until 1879 when it was changed to First A.M.E Church of Buffalo.
  • The name was changed to Bethel A.M.E. Church in 1912.
Pronunciation of bethel: BETH el
Meaning of bethel:
  • House of God
  • A sacred area or sanctuary. Genesis 28:19
  • A place of worship for seamen
  • City of ancient Palestine north of Jerusalem
Place often used in the Hebrew Bible. It is first mentioned in Genesis 12:8 as being near where Abram pitched his tent. Later in Genesis, it is the location where Jacob dreamt of seeing angels and God, and which he therefore named Bethel, "House of God." The name is further used for a border city located between the territory of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and that of the tribe of Ephraim.

For more information, see Wikipedia: Bethel (online Sept. 2020)
African Methodist Episcopal Church
September 2020 Bethel AME Pastor:
Reverend Richard A. Stenhouse

September 23, 2020 Photos

North (left)  and west elevations   ...   Note offices to the right of  the English Gothic Revival style church building    ...  Far left:  Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts

Facade on East Ferry Street   ...   Pointed arches are a characteristic of Gothic style   ...   Loophole windows, crenelated tower and gently pointed arches are characteristics of English Gothic

False front

Hoodmold with corbel supports   ..   Mouchette upper windows   ...   Opalescent stained glass

Venetian arch over double doors

September 23, 2020 Photos

The Freedom Wall is located across the street on East Ferry   ...   Far left colorful background:  Metamorphosis #5 mural

The church building  and the office building annex to the right

Crenelated tower   ...   Venetian-arched, louvered belfry   ...   Loophole window   ...   Paired lancet windows

Crenelated tower   ...   Paired vertical pier buttresses

Crenelated tower   ...   Venetian-arched, louvered belfry 

Opalescent stained glass    ...    Two details below:

Office entrance


East Ferry has been designated as Richard Allen Way.  Richard Allen was the founder and first bishop of the of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.   ...   This is the Freedom Wall located directly across the street from the church.    ...    Note  the name of current pastor of the church: Richard Allen Stenhouse.

Partial reprint

A House of Worship as a 'Home' -- a 'Life'
Bethel AME Church Celebrates 175 years of Inspiring the Black Community

By Matthew Spina and Vanessa Thomas 
The Buffalo News, May 1, 2006

They came with countless stories of empowerment, hardship and overcoming adversity.

Sunday, about 500 people packed inside Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church -- Buffalo's oldest black church and oldest black institution -- to commemorate the church's 175th anniversary at their 9:30 a.m. worship service.

Charlotte Lewis is the church's longest-living congregation member. Now 103, she has been attending the church since 1919.

During the service, the Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse urged his congregation to commemorate the church's anniversary by remembering the trailblazers who died fighting for equality.

"We have a long and distinct history," Stenhouse told the audience from the pulpit as bright sunlight shone through the rainbow-colored stained-glass windows adorning the wall.

"You should be excited today to be part of 175 years of history. . . . You have no idea what they had to do to start this church."

Bethel Church traces its roots to the Colored Methodist Society, Buffalo's first black religious group, founded April 28, 1831. The members of Bethel, which is the city's third-oldest religious community, have worshipped in buildings on Carroll Street, Vine Alley and Eagle Street.

Today, Bethel is located at 1525 Michigan Ave., at East Ferry Street, the site of the church since 1953. Congregation members still dress in their Sunday best -- men in crisp suits, while some ladies wear church hats adorned with fancy chiffon bows.

During interviews with a handful of the longest-serving members of the congregation, a picture emerged of an active church that helped African-Americans through times of hardship -- slavery, segregation and racism.

They say the church has equipped blacks with the tools to overcome their adversities -- job training, education and self-empowerment.

Garnet Hicks Wallace, 88, has been a member of Bethel for the last 59 years.

"When Rev. D. Ormonde Walker was here in the late 1940s, he sat outside in his car at Eagle and Jefferson and watched the A&P store and discovered that no blacks were working there," recalled Wallace, who is also a missionary at the church. "Once he realized that, he got them to hire blacks."

"He also got blacks to work in the department stores," chimes in 90-year-old Willah DuBard, who has been attending the church since she was 5.

In the 1940s, Bethel also held classes for men to pass the test to drive the city's streetcars, Wallace recalled.

While Bethel was not a part of the Underground Railroad and did not harbor slaves, church members helped many slaves get to Canada to achieve their freedom, according to retired professor Celes Tisdale, a parishioner for 54 years who teaches Sunday school and is helping to write the church's most recent history.

The anniversary service, part of a yearlong celebration, was a powerful mix of Scripture readings, prayers and lively hymns. Parishioners sang along to the hymns and tapped their feet as the pulsating beat of a conga drummer, organist, bass guitarist and a percussionist filled the quaint church, adorned with dark wooden beams in the ceiling.

Among the highlights of the service was the sermon delivered by 93-year-old Rev. John W.P. Collier Jr., the oldest living pastor of Bethel.

The former pastor served for two years until 1950 and was just 33 when he was a pastor at the church.

Today, the church has about a dozen homes for low-income families on Elsie Place in the Cold Spring section and runs the Bethel Head Start programs for preschool youngsters at 12 locations throughout the city and county. It also is erecting a retail incubator for minority-owned businesses at 1290 Jefferson Ave., across from Tops Market, a collaborative project with several other East Side churches.

"Bethel AME has been a leader in spreading the Gospel, first and foremost, and has been at the forefront of career opportunities, education and social justice," said Stenhouse, who is also a member of the state financial control board for the City of Buffalo.

We are still taking the Gospel outside of these four walls."

See also:  Bethel AME Church - Official History  (online Sept. 2020)

Photos and their arrangement 2020 Chuck LaChiusa
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index... .|....E-Mail ...| ..

web site consulting by ingenious, inc.