A history of merging and uniting
St. Stephen’s United Evangelical Church – 1853
More than 150 years ago, the Rev. Carl F. Soldan, former pastor of St. Paul’s United Evangelical Church Buffalo, N.Y. organized St. Stephen’s United Evangelical Church in March of 1853. The first service was held in a church lo¬cated on the northeast corner of Ellicott and Tupper Streets. This church was known as the “French Church.” After worshipping in the French Church for four (4) years, the congregation was determined to have a church of their own. Early in 1858, the newly erected church was dedicated.
Rev. Soldan was succeeded by Rev. Friedrich Schelle, who was the spiritual leader of St. Stephen’s Church from March 1, 1854, to May 1, 1898. The membership grew rapidly under the efficient and untiring leadership of Rev. Schelle, ably supported by the personal work of the Council and mem¬bers of the church.
The first parish school hall was erected in 1874. In 1877 three (3) bells and a clock were placed in the belfry of the church. The largest bell weighed 4,000 lbs. On it was inscribed: “Soli deo gloria,” and the names of the Council. The second bell contained the inscription: “St. Paul”, and the third, “St. John”.
An outstanding achievement of St. Stephen’s Church was the erection of a Home for the Aged at Forks, N. Y. In 1877 a piece of land on Broadway, about two (2) miles beyond the city line, was purchased, and soon after¬ward a three-story building was erected.
Following the resignation of Rev. F. Schelle, a unanimous call was extended by the church to Rev. Gustav Rueckert, pastor of St. John’s¬ Church in Dunkirk, N. Y. He entered upon his duties on May 1, 1898. Under the leadership of Pastor Rueckert, Sunday evening services were held in the English language, and English gradually superseded the German in the Sunday School. Older members at first hesitated to give their consent to such changes, deeming them too radical, but eventually they were convinced that conditions warranted them so that prog¬ress might not be hindered in the church’s work.
In 1899, the congregation carried out a long cherished plan of erecting a parsonage. The building of the new house of worship of St. Stephen’s church at Adam and Peckham streets was a monument to the memory of Rev. Rueckert who died on the 8th of December, 1911.
Rev. W. H. Schild, pastor of Bethany Evangelical Church, Buffalo, N. Y, was chosen to succeed Rev. G. Rueckert as pastor. He entered upon his duties during the month of January, 1912. Because of the ever increasing demands upon the time and energy of Rev. Schild, the members of the church decided to procure the services of an assistant pastor. The call was extended to the Rev. Leon K. Molter who was installed by the senior pastor on July 19. Rev. Molter resigned to accept a call as pastor of St. Peter’s Church at Lockport, N. Y.
Rev. Schild had been failing in health and Rev. Arthur T. Gerhold was called January 1, 1940, as assistant to Rev. Schild. Upon the death of Dr. Schild nine (9) days later Rev. Gerhold became pastor and was installed February 1, 1940. He later resigned to accept a call at Sidney, Ohio.
Rev. Hammel was invited to serve as interim pastor on April 20, 1947 and continued as such until the General Synod granted the Privilege of Call. The Rev. Clarence Roy Hammel, Th.B. was installed as the sixth resident pastor of St. Stephen’s Church on September 21, 1952. He remained until 1957.
In February, 1950, a campaign was started for a new Old Folks’ Home. St. Stephen’s, ever eager to show its great pride and interest in the Home for the Aged, responded to this campaign with fifty-two (52) workers. At a special service held on the old Hoyt estate on Amherst St. in Buffalo NY on August 29, 1953, ground was broken for the new building of the Evangelical and Reformed Old Folks’ Home. While the program site on Amherst Street closed in 2003, the United Church Home Company continues to seek new and creative ways for ongoing ministry with our senior adult population.
In 1958 and the early part of 1959, the Rev. Carl F. Fiscus, a son of the church, served as Interim Minister.
Because of changing conditions in the area surrounding the church, and because many members had moved out of the immediate area, it was felt that the church should relocate to the eastern suburbs of Buffalo. Ground was purchased and a new building was erected on the corner of Wherle Drive and Churchcroft Lane in the Town of Amherst. During construction Sunday services were conducted in a meeting room at the YMCA on Main Street in Amherst, NY across from Rosary Hill College (Daemon College). The first service was held in the new sanctuary in September, 1958 with the formal dedication on November 23, 1958.
On March 1, 1959, the Rev. Carl Armin Viehe became the eighth pastor of our church and continued until his retirement in 1982.
Bethlehem United Evangelical – 1886
Bethlehem United Evangelical was founded in 1886 as a mission church in a simple wooden building. The congregation was organized on February 7, 1887. Work was begun on a chapel and six weeks later was dedicated on March 20, 1887. On May 1, 1887 Rev. August Goetz became the first Pastor.
On January 17, 1889, the congregation purchased the two lots and Chapel on Bowen Street from the Ministers Conference and Bethlehem became a self supporting congregation. In June of the same year a lot was purchased on Genesee and East Parade Circle. The Chapel was moved from the Bowen Street site and placed on the rear of the Genesee and East Parade Circle landsite. It was here the congregation worshipped for nearly six and one-half years.
Ground was broken for a new Church building on April 16, 1895 and in February 1896, the church structure was dedicated. In 1913, the corner property of East Parade and East Parade Circle adjacent to the Church was purchased. Bethlehem Congregation was now the possessor of one of the finest church properties in Buffalo.
In December of 1924 Pastor August Goetz died suddenly and Rev. Paul Langhorst was installed on June 15, 1925.
The need for additional church school rooms caused the congregation to break ground on July 13, 1932 for the Educational Building, which adjoined the sanctuary and was dedicated on November 13, 1932.
Paul Langhorst died on February 22, 1945 and in December 1945, the Rev. Julius W. Kuck became the third Pastor of Bethlehem Congregation. On February 2, 1947 Bethlehem Congregation changed its name to “Bethlehem Evangelical and Reformed Church of Buffalo, New York.”
Following the resignation of Rev. Julius W. Kuck, the Rev. Jost B. Washburn was installed as the fourth Pastor of Bethlehem Church on December 1, 1955. Rev. Jost Washburn resigned as Minister of Bethlehem Church on September 30, 1970 to take another church and Rev. Herman Fenske served as interim minister.
Due to the inability to get a new minister along with the decline in membership, especially among the younger members, the congregation voted to dispose of the church properties. Calvary Baptist Church purchased the property and took possession May 15, 1972.
In 1972 the congregation of Bethlehem negotiated a merger with St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ, located in Amherst New York, and joined with that congregation.
St. Stephen’s – Bethlehem United Church of Christ – 1973
In our “Second Century of Christian Service” one of the big events in the life of the church was the consolidation of St. Stephen’s and Bethlehem Churches to form the new congregation St. Stephen’s-Bethlehem United Church of Christ. Rev. Viehe was instrumental in leading this successful merger which became finalized on June 4, 1973.
The Rev. David L. Donner was installed as our ninth pastor in January, 1983. After serving 23 years, he retired in April 2006.
Many improvements have been made to the St. Stephen’s – Bethlehem building and grounds during the past 35 years. The cornerstone to an addition was laid in 1986 and the sanctuary was remodeled in 1997. A Churchyard and Columbarium have been established. A renovation to the sanctuary, including the addition of a pipe organ, was completed in 2005. The parking lot was also enlarged and re-configured to include a volleyball court and playground.
St. James Church – 1878
About 1878, St. Jacobi Evangeliche Geminde was organized and met on Oak St. in Buffalo, with Rev. Vogt as the Pastor. Rev. Oscar Kraft took over in 1881 and under his leadership, the church moved to Jefferson Ave. The name was then changed to St. James Evangelical Church.
On October 7, 1923 a fire destroyed the building and the property was sold. Two cottages were purchased at 526 High St. and a yellow brick church was erected and dedicated in 1926.
On Oct. 15, 1956 the uniting of the congregation with that of Pilgrim Church was finalized.
Fifteen (15) pastors had served St. James during its 78-year existence. They were:
Rev. Vogt Rev. Adolph Baltzer
Rev. Oscar Kraft Rev. Louis Suedmeyer
Rev. Eugene Ernst Rev. Walter Ott
Rev. August Goetz Rev. Carl Zimmerman
Rev. Paul Foerster Rev. Norman Duzen
Rev. Valentine Crusius Rev. George E. Pruessner
Rev. George Duvall Rev. Frederick Kramer
Rev. R. Spaeth
Pilgrim Church – 1890
Pilgrim church began on Jun 8, 1890 as Stranger’s Sunday School. The first resident pastor of the church was the Rev. Hans Horny who served the religious needs of the congregation from 1902 to 1904. Rev. George P. Michael was appointed as the second resident pastor and served until 1916.
The church located at Best and Herman streets, opposite Humboldt Park was dedicated in 1916. The Rev. Gottlieb Siegenthaler became the third pastor in 1916 and, in 1928, the Rev. Alfred J. Nies became the fourth pastor. Rev. Nies continued leading the congregation until his death in 1949. Rev. Roland F. F. Roehner was installed as the fifth pastor in 1950. Following his resignation in 1956, Mr. Kenneth Kolbe was engaged to fill the pulpit for the three months of June, July and August. The Rev. Carl Fiscus was called to be supply pastor of the newly united church and served through July, 1957.
The Rev. William T. Lane was installed as the sixth pastor of Pilgrim St. James in 1957 and in 1969 Rev. Kennyon Edwards became the seventh pastor of Pilgrim St. James United Church of Christ. He served until 1973. Rev. Arthur Sennewald became interim pastor from 1973 to 1974 and Rev. Jack Allen served as their eighth and final pastor, serving from 1974 to 1979. It was at this time that ninety (90) members of that congregation made the decision to join with St. Stephen’s – Bethlehem and were welcomed into our membership.
Trinity United Church of Christ – 1883
It was 1882 when a group of Evangelical pastors met to discuss erecting a Mission Church on Buffalo’s east side. A parcel of land on Gold Street, owned by Joseph Churchyard, was purchased. A temporary church building was erected in 1883 to serve the spiritual needs of the primarily German community.
On February 3, 1883, St. Trinitatis Kirche opened its doors, dedicated to the service of God and man. All services at that time were held in German. Later on, as the congregation grew it was decided to have a Sunday service in English.
A meeting was held and the congregation began with fourteen charter members. The following Sunday, February 10, 1883, the Sunday School was formed with twenty-eight children participating.
After a long search Reverend Henry A. Kraemer was called to become Trinity’s 1st pastor. He was installed on August 19, 1883. To insure the church’s survival, Reverend Kraemer would go to every house he could reach by foot, spreading the Gospel Message and telling of the Evangelical Mission church on Gold Street. He was instrumental in obtaining clean piped water, mail service, a fire house, and natural gas lights to the area now known as Lovejoy.
The congregation grew and in 1887 it was decided to build a larger permanent church with a school building to educate the children in German. On July 10, 1887 the cornerstone of Trinity Church was laid. In 1915 a second addition was added to the school.
Many changes took place to beautify the sanctuary and by the time of the 40th Anniversary in 1923, the mortgage was burned. The Sunday School now taught 474 pupils.
By 1928, Reverend Kraemer’s health was declining and it was necessary to add an assistant pastor. Reverend Rodney Heckman was installed in 1930.
On February 5, 1933 six-hundred fifty people attended services held for the 50th anniversary of Trinity Church. The following evening eight hundred attended a service to honor Reverend Kraemer’s fifty years of service to the church. Unfortunately his health prevented him from attending. The church remained strong through the years weathering the Great Depression and two World Wars.
On August 19, 1945 a special service was held for Reverend Kraemer on his 65th year of ordination and sixty-two years of pastorate at Trinity. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 87, Reverend Kraemer retired and Reverend Heckman became pastor. The following summer Reverend Kraemer died and was heralded by many for his dedication to Trinity Church and its congregation.
By 1948 the congregation grew to 1200 members and almost all services were in English.
A parsonage was built next to the church in 1951 to accommodate any future spiritual leader. 1952 and 1953 were years of great activity. The sanctuary’s interior was completely remodeled which included the addition of the Good Shepherd Window, also known as the Reverend Kraemer Memorial Window.
In June of 1957 Trinity witnessed the merging of the Evangelical and Reform Church and the Congregational Church to form the United Church of Christ. During this time Trinity remained primarily a neighborhood parish with 836 members and 518 children attending Sunday School. By 1961 the church officially changed its name to Trinity United Church of Christ. It was decided to construct a new Sunday School building in 1965 to accommodate the large number of children, five scouting units, and the church’s many social groups and activities.
Reverend Heckman, after serving thirty-nine years of service, resigned in 1969. Trinity’s congregation had been led by only two called pastors in its eighty-seven year history. He remained at Trinity until a new minister could be found. A dinner was held in April to honor Reverend Heckman for his dedication to the church. On May 4th Reverend William Walch began his short pastorate. He served for seven months before becoming gravely ill. Reverend Arthur Senneweld agreed to become an assistant pastor during Reverend Walch’s illness. Reverend Walch submitted his resignation in April 1971 and died shortly afterwards.
In 1972 Reverend Carl Marks was installed as pastor with Reverend Senneweld conducting his last sermon as interim pastor. Pew communion was introduced and greatly approved. By the time of Trinity’s 90th anniversary in 1973, a $100,000 loan for the Sunday School building had been repaid in just six years.
In September of 1980, Reverend Marks led his last worship service and accepted a call to the First Congregational UCC.
Reverend David Siegfried was officially installed in August of 1981. His wife Eleanor became the organist/choir director with the choir growing to twenty-six members.
The church’s 100th anniversary took place in 1993 with only five pastors having served during those years. Fifteen separate events were held to celebrate including a concert given by the Shrine Chanters. Mayor James Griffin proclaimed Sunday February 6, 1983 as Trinity United Church of Christ Centennial Day.
After faithfully serving Trinity Church during the 80’s and noting a steady decline in members, Reverend Siegfried resigned in January of 1990 to be closer to his family in Pennsylvania.
In 1991, the search committee recommended Reverend Paula Gustafson to be our next pastor. The youth group was reorganized and Reverend Paula regularly attended meetings of the Women’s Fellowship. She was a member of the choir and would occasionally sing with an acoustic guitar during Sunday services. The congregation continued to change with the majority of the members now living in the suburbs. Reverend Gustafson resigned and left in December of 2002.
Trinity continued on for almost three years with various interim ministers. During that period the congregation spent a great deal of time defining who we are and what our mission is. It was the fall of 2005 when Reverend Dr. Richard Danielson was installed as a permanent part time pastor. With a renewed sense of hope, the congregation requested his position be changed to full time the following year. There would be many joys and many challenges in the upcoming years.
Winter services were held in the auditorium due to high fuel costs and while membership and attendance increased, stewardship remained the same. Two outreach programs were developed in 2007. A weeklong “Camp Trinity” was a successful program that included twenty-seven children from the church and surrounding neighborhood and a Carpenter’s workshop to provide training seminars teaching life skills for home ownership.
Trinity developed a relationship with Reverend Barbara Hulsing and Good Shepherd Community of Faith Church as they became a member of the United Church of Christ. Reverend Hulsing began a study of what it means to become an Open and Affirming congregation at Trinity. By the time we celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the church in February 2008, we were officially an Open and Affirming church.
There was great concern for the future of the church on Gold Street and an independent consultant was brought in during the spring of 2008 to assist the council and congregation of upcoming decisions we could make. After many discussions and considerable prayer it was decided that the congregation of Trinity Church would be better stewards of God by joining with another congregation.
The doors of Trinity United Church of Christ closed on December 27, 2009, almost one hundred twenty-seven years from the time they opened. A new beginning started on January 3, 2010 as we began the journey of merging with St. Stephens-Bethlehem United Church of Christ.
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you the harmony to live with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God and father of our LordJesus Christ.” Romans 15
1853 – St. Stephen’s Founded
1878 – St. James Founded
1883 – Trinity Founded
1886 – Bethlehem Founded
1890 – Pilgrim Church Founded
1956 – St. James merges with Pilgrim Church to become
Pilgrim St. James
1973 – Bethlehem merges with St. Stephen’s to become
St. Stephen’s – Bethlehem
1979 – Members of Pilgrim St. James join St. Stephen’s –
2010 – Trinity merged with St. Stephens – Bethlehem
As we celebrate our 160th Anniversary of Ministry we are pleased to be in a covenant relationship with the traditional beliefs of our parent denomination of the United Church of Christ.
Harmony prevails in the ranks of our membership. The various organizations in the church cooperate with each other in seeking the church’s welfare.
As we look to the future, we see a great day and a great challenge facing St. Stephen’s – Bethlehem Church. May God grant that we may be proven worthy of that which has been laid before us