BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- You’ve probably heard of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
It stands on the corner of Michigan and Ferry in the city of Buffalo. What you know of bethel AME today came after many years of change.
Reverand Paul Thomas explains “it began in 1831, organized in 1831, and was called the colored methodist society or colored methodist church and then became the African Methodist Episcopal Church or Society of Buffalo. From there, the church moved into a unit from Cowell Street to Vine Street and became known as the Vine Street AME church, and from there, the church continued to grow.”
The historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest congregation of African descent in both the city of Buffalo and Western New York. In fact, the church has a history that predates the corporation of the queen city.
“It was organized just one year prior to the incorporation of the city of Buffalo itself, and since then, has amassed significant membership,” said Rev. Thomas.
It’s a home for many in buffalo’s black community today, a pilar of faith as strong as its history is deep. But in the 19th century, Bethel AME also served as a different kind of safe haven.
Rev. Thomas shares, “our first site on Cowell Street was one of the stops for the Underground Railroad. And then our church, where we moved to on Vine Street, we had a frame structure and then later erected a brick structure on Vine Street and that was one of the major stops to the Underground Railroad because of our connections with persons moving from the South and moving into the north.”
He goes on to say, “this present building is also reported as being one of the stops that were utilized during the Underground Railroad.” Black people on their journey to escape slavery using the underground railroad would be supported and guided by members of the church – as well as our neighbors in the north, in Canada.
History is always being written, and our history is not just behind us, it’s in front of us.
The same is true for the generations-long story of Bethel AME. That’s what Pastor Thomas wants us to keep in mind this black history month
He says, “let this congregation’s age and its growth and its different acquisitions of property, and its development and its vision for the future reflect that. Buffalo is just getting started. It’s a star on the horizon. And this congregation is a star on the horizon.”