The fellowship of believers that eventually became what is today known as Amherst Baptist Church (ABC) started as a modest Bible study of transplanted Southern Baptists in the fall of 1957. As their study of the scriptures grew and participants added to its ranks, they assumed the moniker, “Erie Chapel.”
The third church established in the emergent Frontier Baptist Association and the fourth in the New York Convention, Erie Chapel continued to add to its membership. They formally changed their name to Amherst Baptist Church in 1961 and in 1963 the church’s growth, which had swelled to about 50 people, led to the construction of the original sanctuary which was built with volunteer labor. The undertaking was an exciting venture as ABC was the first building project of a Southern Baptist church in the Northeast.
As the Lord added to ABC’s bourgeoning foundation of strong, committed, and godly people, it became apparent that the fellowship’s vigorous growth was necessitating yet another strategic expansion. Thus, in 1969, the church added a two-story education wing and began a nursery school.
By 1975 church attendance had grown to the point where two morning services were needed and it became clear that the Lord was leading Amherst Baptist Church to build a new sanctuary. Prayerfully, a building committee was established and at God’s leading, ABC began an innovative program to finance a new worship facility completely debt free to the glory of God.
Accordingly, the cornerstone of what had become affectionately known as the "Miracle Sanctuary" was laid in 1980. In keeping with the vision and resolve God had given Amherst Baptist Church, the new house of worship was funded entirely without a mortgage. The Lord honored the congregation’s faith and faithfulness, revealing Himself in many mighty ways during the project’s construction.
When Pastor Porter, who had led the congregation some 21 years, resigned in 1985, church attendance/membership was 382/600. Furthermore, ABC had assisted in the creation of six other churches located in Rochester, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, Buffalo, North Tonawanda, and Lockport.
From a spiritual standpoint, the congregation continued to mature as it walked with the Spirit and learned to be led by Him. And as the Lord’s followers at Amherst Baptist Church pressed into God’s will for them, it brought with it a depth of love and faith that resonated with a remarkable sense of unity, boldness, and growth.
Among the new works that the Lord initiated during this period were a crisis pregnancy center called “Helpline,” the “Spirit Praise” contemporary Christian concert series, and the sending out and support of foreign missionaries from the body at ABC — along with many more fresh moves of God’s Spirit.
Additionally, that specific time period saw the church’s leadership resolutely and prayerfully seek the Lord to determine whether or not they were conforming to the biblical leadership model they saw in the scriptures. As they did, they became convinced that the creation of an eldership was a leadership essential that needed to be incorporated into ABC’s spiritual governance. Thus, the church leaders followed the protocols prescribed by the church’s Constitution, and conformed to their understanding of the biblical parameters for the function, responsibility, and authority of a governing body of Elders.
That leadership structure remained intact until the late 1980s when it was determined to eliminate the eldership as a component of church governance. It was reestablished again in 2006 at which time the current elders were selected and continue to serve.
Upon Pastor Porter’s departure from Amherst Baptist Church, the fellowship rose to and triumphed through a demanding season that brought a number of changes and challenges. Subsequently, as the 1990s unfolded, ABC was gifted with a lengthy period of restoration and renewal under the leadership of Pastor Terry Robertson. They experienced an incredible spike in attendance and membership, and at the same time took over the sponsorship of a new work, “Wheatfield Bible Fellowship.”
In 1998, the growing fellowship decided to participate in the “FAITH visitation and outreach program,” and by 2001, church attendance/membership had once again snowballed. In August of 2003, when Pastor Robertson felt led to resign, the church’s attendance/membership was 428/392, in addition to the 75 attending the Russian-language fellowship that had begun to hold their service in the facility.
In 1999, Neil Boron joined the staff of Amherst Baptist Church as an assistant pastor and remained in that position during the search for a senior pastor. As the church continued its search, it was led by the staff pastors in a "team approach", and in November, 2005, Pastor Boron was called and installed as the Senior Pastor of ABC. His tenure lasted some two-plus years, and he resigned early in 2008.
The following year, ABC was shepherded by its remaining staff pastors and elders as a prayerful search resulted in the call of Dr. Dale Suel to assume the leadership of the fellowship. Pastor Suel arrived from Texas and quickly fell in love with the church family. He served until July 2014 at which time he returned to Texas.
Upon Pastor Suel’s resignation, Pastors Scott Gillette and Eric Napoli, having served on staff together for nearly twelve years, were called to serve as co-pastors. Their gifts and callings complement each other’s as they continue to share ABC’s leadership responsibilities with the support of the eldership (who have also been serving since 2006) and the deacon body.
What the Lord began with a modest Bible study led by a faithful team of Southern Baptist missionaries continues to resonate through Western New York. The faith and vision He gave them strengthened by their obedience to it have led to a flourishing spiritual legacy that continues to bear fruit and glorify God.
Pastors Through the Years
Pastor Walter Heilig
Pastor Curtis Porter
Pastor David Walker
Pastor Terry Robertson
Pastor Neil Boron
Pastor Dale R. Suel
Pastors Scott Gillette and Eric Napoli