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Expats to Repats: Pastors return to Buffalo to serve their hometown

Life has a way of coming full circle. For Gregg and Heather Stierheim, that phrase couldn’t be more true.

The Stierheims first met in seventh grade, while on a church trip heading for Washington, D.C. Though Gregg grew up in the Northtowns and Heather in the Southtowns, over the years, the two became friends, seeing each other at various church events and mission trips. Nearly 28 years and four cities later, they are married, with four children, and back in Buffalo serving their community through the church.

The Stierheims left Buffalo in 2001. At that time, the Buffalo economy was struggling, and new college graduates Gregg and Heather were unable to find work. When the Stierheims made the decision to move away from Buffalo, they did so with a heavy heart.

Gregg was offered a job as a youth pastor in a large church in Kernersville, N.C., while Heather managed to get a teaching job there. They always planned to eventually come back to the Queen City.

“We knew that someday we wanted to come back and offer back in the church setting what we had learned when we were younger,” said Heather.

The Stierheims spent the next five years in the south. From there they headed for Pittsburgh, which they said gave them a peek at what Buffalo could become.

“Pittsburgh is years ahead of Buffalo,” said Gregg, who says the Steel City does a great job of embracing the uniqueness of each neighborhood. “It gave us a glimpse of what Buffalo could be because the two cities' histories are so close to one another.”

While in Pittsburgh, Heather and Gregg went to seminary school and became pastors with the United Methodist Church, something they say they wouldn’t have done had they not moved away.

In 2012, they were appointed full-time elders and headed for Massena, N.Y., to work in a church there.

•••

Name: Heather and Gregg Stierheim

Ages: 40 (both)

Current location: Williamsville

Previous location: Kernersville, N.C. (2001-06), Pittsburgh (2006-12), Messina, N.Y. (2012-16)

Miss most about Pittsburgh/Kernersville/Massena: Pittsburgh: The friendships, the opportunity in the city; Kernersville: The weather; Massena: The beauty of the cold winter

Love most about Buffalo: The people, the energy of Buffalo, having to rally behind weather, a good feel to living here

•••

Four years later, they relocated again for the church, this time back to the Queen City. Heather is the senior pastor at Williamsville United Methodist Church and Gregg is lead pastor for Wesley’s Place faith community on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Gregg says he tries to have a presence in the medical campus and surrounding neighborhoods, just being there for people who need to talk or say a prayer. The couple also tries to help in neighborhoods by giving out socks and hats in the wintertime, handing out coffee and packaging food.

As part of his service to the community, Gregg is working with nonprofits to find buildings in Buffalo that could be repurposed to become a space for those who need shelter and a warm meal in the winter.

The Stierheims are thrilled to be raising their four children (Ethan, 13; Noah, 12; Grace, 10; and Lucas, 2) in their hometown, and enjoying everything Buffalo has to offer, including some of the things they remember doing as a kid.

“I loved going to Chestnut Ridge to go sledding. That’s a uniquely Buffalo thing,” said Gregg.

The Stierheim children with a large snowman in their front yard. (Photo courtesy of the Stierheim family)

The family loves visiting the various art galleries, the Buffalo Zoo, all of the playgrounds throughout Western New York, the Broadway Market, going out for Greek breakfast, playing outside in the winter and summer, and the waterfront.

“Lake Erie has so much to offer that we kind of take for granted and you notice it when you leave,” said Heather.

They also like to set aside Friday nights as family time, checking out all the fish fries in the area, something they missed living outside of Buffalo.

They also say the diversity and the people of Buffalo really stood out when they were gone.

“In all the places that we’ve lived, I don’t think we’ve met people as generous and as considerate of one another and friendly as we have here,” said Gregg, who added that Buffalonians have this “incredible sense of place.”

It took 16 years for the Stierheims to return to the Queen City, and they are glad to be back serving the community that shaped the people they are today.

“We both knew that at some point, we would be called back home to give back to the people and the places that had given so much to us,” said Gregg. “Everything that happened between then and now, was preparing us for this time.”

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If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email alison.russo19@gmail.com.

Alison Russo grew up in the Southtowns and lives in a suburb of Kansas City with her husband, Joe, and their two children. She works as a freelance writer and public relations/marketing specialist.

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