Rev. Tamesha Mills’ journey to ministry has been a faith walk of learning to trust in God’s will over making her own plans.
A second-career student and New York City native with a master’s degree in journalism, Mills, MDiv ’22, was a post production operations manager at NBC Universal when she felt God’s call to ordained ministry. She loved her work, but had connected with the African Methodist Episcopal Church during her time at NBC, and found herself studying the Bible more and maturing in her faith. Acquaintances would remark on her pastoral nature and leadership abilities, and after four years with NBCU, Mills left to discern her next steps. “I have been doing my best to make each decision with God,” she shares.
Mills began her studies at Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of 2019. She describes her time at Princeton Seminary as a journey that has been both challenging and fulfilling. The cultural and geographical transition from New York City to Princeton was difficult for her, and in her second semester, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “There was so much theological chaos going on,” Mills recalls. “People were struggling, questioning ‘What does this pandemic mean for us?’ ‘If I can’t go to church, what does that mean for my faith?’ ‘How do I worship God outside of the church walls?’”
For Mills, the pandemic became a crucible moment. “It felt like God was preparing me to be a pastor. I had to take all of the tools that I learned, what the Lord was speaking to me, as well as the knowledge from classes I had taken to encourage and help them find a theological stance for this shift in our world.” Because they knew she was in seminary, others in her life came to Mills during the pandemic, and the experience provided a crash course in practical ministry and pastoral care. In helping those who were struggling, Mills’ confidence in herself and in God’s plan for her grew, and she envisioned herself as a minister for the first time. In April 2022, Mills became an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Another challenge that Mills has overcome is knowing the value of her voice and its worthiness to be heard. Academically, she has grown into her voice through her coursework and her relationships with faculty. Mills finds fulfillment with the connections she has formed with faculty — Professors Lisa Bowens, Elaine James, Dennis Olson, and Heath Dewrell in particular have all inspired her and affirmed her call. While Mills has always connected with the Old Testament and felt its relevancy to the modern world, she fell in love with Hebrew at Princeton Seminary. It deepened her understanding of the Bible’s text, making scripture come alive and creating opportunities to see the individuals within passages written thousands of years ago.
Mills has found community within her cohort and the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS), a student group that, in its constitution and bylaws, seeks “to create a network of support for students during their matriculation at the seminary, to provide a communal forum for the telling of personal, ethnic, and religious experiences in the wider theological environment, to raise awareness and educate members of the seminary on issues pertinent to the Black experience, and to celebrate the intellectual, artistic, and social contributions of the Black community.” During the 2021-2022 academic year, Mills served as moderator of ABS, which she calls a phenomenal experience and an opportunity to learn to lead pastorally. Mills borrows the words of Rev. Dr. Erika Crawford, connectional president of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Women In Ministry, when describing ABS as “not just a fellowship group, but also an advocacy group.”
Under Mills’ leadership, ABS’ advocacy has been instrumental to change on campus. Earlier this year, ABS and allies from student groups advocated for the Board of Trustees to remove the name of Samuel Miller from the Seminary’s chapel. The perspectives they shared compelled the Board to look deeper into the theological ramifications of the chapel’s name. In January 2022, their efforts were not in vain as the name “Miller” was removed from the Seminary Chapel. A task force was established to develop guidelines for the naming and renaming of buildings on campus.
These moments have not always been comfortable for Mills, but she views them as a continual submission to God’s will. She surrenders herself to doing God’s work and aims to make a better experience for students on campus, knowing these skills will help her be a better faith leader.
This fall, Mills will return to Princeton Seminary to earn a Master of Theology degree. She plans to apply for jobs in ministry and in Christian education in the future, and to one day pursue a doctoral degree in Old Testament. But she’s trying not to plan too much, lest her plans get in the way of God’s. Smiling, she says, “I’m excited to see how God opens up doors.”