Words by Kent Olden
The oldest Black church in Western New York, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church has stood as a pillar in the Buffalo community since its founding in 1831. With its Vine Street location serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the mid-19th century, the church has been a literal gateway to freedom to anyone who has walked through its doors. As such, its gatekeeper has carried the cross of the masses as they find their way. Now the time has come for the gatekeeper to pass the torch so that the legacy can live on. In June 2021, after 24 years of dedicated service, Rev. Richard Allen Stenhouse is retiring as pastor of Bethel AME Church.
Buffalo born and bred, Richard Allen Stenhouse began his pastoral ministry in 1982 when he was appointed pastor of Bethel AME Church – Lackawanna, New York, where he served two years. In 1984, he became pastor of Bethel AME – Norwalk, Connecticut, under Bishop Richard Allen Hildebrand. After 13 years in Norwalk, Rev. Stenhouse was appointed to the pastorate of Bethel AME – Buffalo, where he has spent the last 24 years.
During his time at each one of these locations, Rev. Stenhouse worked tirelessly to not only uplift and encourage his churches and congregations, but also the communities surrounding them and their residents. Under his leadership, Bethel – Norwalk founded two nonprofit organizations: a housing corporation that erected a $1.3 million housing development for moderate-income families, and a two-coach bus transportation service that was extended to the greater Norwalk community. The church expanded its own building with a $305,000 addition of an educational annex, state-of-the-art sound system and complete renovations to make the church for full handicap accessibility.
During his 24-year tenure at Bethel – Buffalo, Rev. Stenhouse served as the executive director of Bethel Head Start and oversaw the formation of the Bethel Community Development Corporation in 1998. Securing both a $50,000 grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and a $1.5 million three-year grant from Fleet Bank and LISC, Rev. Stenhouse led the Bethel CDC in the construction of 14 low-moderate income homes in the Cold Spring area; a $2.7 million daycare facility; a retail incubator for entrepreneurs for minority entrepreneurs on Jefferson Avenue; and 30 rental units in partnership with Belmont Housing. The Bethel CDC also purchased 1461 Main Street to house the administrative offices of Bethel Head Start. Within the Western New York Conference of the AME Church, Rev. Stenhouse currently serves as Presiding Elder of the Buffalo-Rochester District, and as a Connectional Trustee of the Connectional Conference.
Remaining committed to his community, Rev. Stenhouse is a founding member of the historic Jeremiah Partnership, which works to address the housing, economic development and educational needs of eastside residents. In 2003, he was appointed to the Canisius College Board of Regents and the Buffalo State College Community Advisory Committee. He has also served on the Board of Directors of both LEWAC Associates of Western New York, Inc., and Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Buffalo. In 2004, Rev. Stenhouse was appointed by Gov. George Pataki to the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, making him the first clergy member to serve on the nine-member team.
Rev. Richard Allen Stenhouse holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from the University at Buffalo and a Master of Divinity from the United Theological Seminary. He resides in Buffalo with his wife, Sharon Davis-Stenhouse. They have one daughter, Nicole; three grandchildren; and six great grandchildren.
It has certainly been a long time coming, but it is also very well-deserved. The congregation of Bethel AME Church and the communities impacted by Rev. Stenhouse’s leadership and dedication congratulate him on his retirement! “Well done, good and faithful servant!”