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“When I arrived as a beginning junior class member on a Saturday, there was a heavy rainstorm. My radio and lights did not work. I felt alone. Had I made a mistake in coming to Princeton? On that Monday night, however, I sat in the back row of Miller Chapel for the small commencement exercises. As the commencement speaker rose to give his address, I noted a man with a stately gray head, the traditional black robe, and a bright red tie. I looked in the bulletin and suddenly came alive as I saw the speaker’s name — Robert E. Speer.

“He preached a sermon titled ‘The Preacher’s Book.’ To hear that man — already a legend — ended any doubts about my decision to go not just to seminary but to Princeton Seminary. His focus on the Bible struck home.” It was the last time Speer spoke on campus before his death.

Almost universally, the preachers most admired and remembered are the Seminary’s presidents. Dr. John Mackay, or “Jack Mack” as he was irreverently and fondly called by a number of spirited students, preached on a quarterly basis. John Turpin (M.Div., 1952) can still see Mackay standing between the pulpit and the lectern, his hands behind his back. “He’d speak for 50–60 minutes, and we hung on every word,” Turpin says.

Joel Mattison admits being a “balcony sitter.” Mattison’s placement was what he calls his own “self-imposed exile, born of a humility that he was not worthy to sit near the cross and the table.” One time, Mackay preached a sermon about “getting on the road for Christ,” and “not just sitting in the balcony.” After that sermon, Mattison says he never sat in the balcony again, until a few years ago when he was checking out the pews as part of the chapel renovation assessment! John Turpin remembers using this same metaphor a number of times, and although he was not a “balcony sitter” in the literal sense, the message struck home with him as well.

Those who attended Princeton Seminary during the tenure of Dr. James I. McCord remember fondly his Monday leadership in Miller Chapel. “You could always count on hearing something worth hearing,” reminisces Bob Heppenstall. “I will always remember hearing that deep, gravelly voice of Dr. McCord’s reading the Scripture lesson, ‘In the year when King Uzziah died….’ Listening to Dr. McCord made me proud to be a Presbyterian, and to be at Princeton.” Heppenstall’s fondness for McCord extends beyond his preaching. “My father died during my Seminary years,” Heppenstall relates. “I was blessed by Dr. McCord’s pastoral care during a very sad and painful time in my life.”

In the 1970s, there were times when some students felt as though the pulpit in Miller Chapel was being used as a soapbox, a place where people pressed their own personal viewpoints. For Art Fogartie (M.Div., 1978), McCord’s sermons were a saving grace from the misuse of the pulpit. “When McCord’s bullhorn voice erupted, ‘Hear the Word of God,’ it represented not a request, but an imperial summons into the Shadow of the Most High,” writes Fogartie. “And though the literary references often sent me scurrying to the public library and the theological concepts continually shot past me like the Mad Max truck drivers on Route 1, I listened to the point of exhaustion lest some pearl of great value slip by without recognition. So I went, every Monday, to hear the Voice… to stand before the Word… to feel the Presence.”

During the time of the Los Angeles riots and fires that erupted after the Rodney King verdict, Elaine Hinnant (M.Div., 1989), who was ordained in Miller Chapel, was serving as an administrator at the Seminary. “Both the president, Dr. Thomas Gillespie, and the campus chaplain, the Rev. Michael Livingston, stood up the next morning and talked about what was happening in Los Angeles, where both of them had grown up. They spoke from their hearts to an intensely divided and racially conflicted issue in our nation and offered leadership to the campus as it was responding, too. That day stands out in my memory as the one time that national and world conflict were really spoken about in relation to our life at PTS.”

Some of Carmen Fowler’s (M.Div., 1993) fondest memories of her Seminary years were the days when President Gillespie preached in chapel.

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Going to the Chapel...
Many PTS stduents were married in Miller Chapel. Damon and Mary Hickey (class of 1968) were married there in May 1967, a year before their graduation. This picture was taken on the steps of the chapel twenty-six years later when they returned for their twenty-fifth class reunion in 1993.

“His call to worship was always the same,” she says. “‘Everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!’ With those words he seemed to lay down his presidential persona and become again the pastor of a hungry and thirsty flock. He taught us from his favorite Pauline epistles and challenged us with the words of the prophets, but always he proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are days when I am preparing a Sunday sermon that I wish I had taken notes. But it wasn’t a class we took in Miller Chapel, it was worship — the community gathered, despite all that divided us — around the Word.”

Worship in Miller Chapel has always been enhanced by the incredible music that has been an essential component of many chapel memories. “It wasn’t just the acoustics, which were fantastic,” says John Turpin, “but the sound of all the voices joining together in singing the great hymns.” For Turpin, singing hymns such as “Father, We Praise Thee Now the Night Is Over” was the perfect way to launch a new day.

Bob Heppenstall chose to be yet another self-proclaimed “balcony sitter” because he loved hearing the joyful music of the singing of the hymns waft up to where he sat. “The music lifted my soul,” he says, and this statement is echoed almost unanimously by those who shared their memories of Miller Chapel, no matter where they chose to sit.

Ray Lindquist joined the Seminary Touring Choir under the tutelage of David Hugh Jones. Every Sunday, the choir traveled to three different churches and sang: once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. “This gave us a great experience of worshipping in different churches,” Lindquist recalls, and also gave the students a chance to visit various other countries during the summer months.

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