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Six Decades of Memories of Miller Chapel

by Kathleen Long Bostrom

India has its Taj Mahal, France, the Eiffel Tower, Pisa, a Leaning Tower. Princeton Theological Seminary has its own architectural gem: Miller Chapel.

It isn’t ornate, breathtaking, or peculiar. But nobody who has ever sat in its polished pews, watched the afternoon light sift through the gleaming windows, or heard the word preached from its pulpit would exchange Miller Chapel for any of those grander examples of architecture. As Dr. Joel Mattison (M.Div., 1954) points out, it is in fact the simplicity of Miller Chapel’s architectural design that makes it a real-life example of the Second Commandment not to “make any graven image.” The chapel, in a way, “practices what it preaches.” It stands as a place where the Word of God is the focus of everything that goes on inside.

Miller Chapel is more than a structure. For most of the students who have passed through the hallowed halls of Princeton Seminary, Miller Chapel has served as the heartbeat of the campus. Within its sturdy yet elegant walls, life in all its complexities has transpired: birth, death, baptism, marriage, ordination, resurrection.

“Miller Chapel was the central place of our lives as students at Princeton,” says Stan Wilson (M.Div., 1949; Th.M., 1958). “Attendance was wonderful, by both students and faculty. Going to daily chapel services was extremely important to all of us.”

Bob Heppenstall (M.Div., 1978) echoes these sentiments. “Miller Chapel gave a center to all of life on the campus. It was the place where professors and students sat together, devoid of the necessary hierarchical relationship between teacher and learner. In the chapel, we were all united as one, coming together to hear the Word of God.”

That word has been voiced through many a powerful and inspirational preacher. Through the centuries, some of the most recognized and respected preachers of the times articulated God’s good news from the pulpit of Miller Chapel. Ray Lindquist (M.Div., 1967) remembers hearing Eugene Carson Blake preach. One sermon in particular stands out in his memory. “Dr. Blake was preaching on the prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah. He said that Isaiah was rich and Jeremiah was poor, but what difference did it make to their prophecy?”

Blake was already a well-known preacher at the time. Mattison remembers when a young revivalist named Billy Graham was invited to preach in Miller Chapel. “There was a lot of skepticism by the students about this non-Greek-trained revivalist coming to Princeton,” he recalls. “But the day before Graham came, the president of the

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Joel Mattison

seminary, Dr. John Mackay (who never referred to himself in the first person, but always used the pronoun ‘one’), stood up in chapel and said, ‘One has heard that there are rumors about Mr. Graham coming to Princeton. But there are areas in one’s own personal life that one looks forward to having Mr. Graham shed light upon.’” According to Mattison, not another negative word was spoken regarding Graham’s visit.

Mattison was working in the recording studio when Graham finally preached, and he listened to the sermon from there. There is a hint of a smile in Mattison’s voice as he adds, “Even Paul

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Jim Emerson

Lehmann slipped in and listened from the sound room.” They both were impressed by the young revivalist’s sincerity and powerful preaching.

Jim Emerson (M.Div., 1949) arrived at Princeton at the beginning of the spring term of 1946. “During the war years, the Seminary graduated a class of students at the conclusion of each term so that graduates could quickly move on to roles in the military — usually as chaplains.

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