The board of trustees for Princeton Seminary voted on Tuesday to remove Samuel Miller’s name from the chapel. Miller was a slaveholder and anti-abolitionist. The chapel will now be called the Seminary Chapel.
Trustees for the school also voted to create a task force charged with developing guiding principles and decision-making rubrics for naming, renaming, and conferring honor in buildings and spaces. This task force will include students, faculty, and alumni.
The Association of Black Seminarians and other student groups on campus lobbied for Miller’s name to be disassociated with the chapel and held a demonstration last week. Students vowed to not attend chapel for the spring semester if Miller’s name remained.
Seminary President M. Craig Barnes said the decision to change the name is part of the school’s ongoing work of confession and repentance related to historical ties to slavery at the institution.
“As a community, we are committed not only to keeping the legacy of our history before us, but also to continuing to make steps towards repair,” Barnes said in a written statement. “The board joins me in being grateful for the prophetic voices of our students, especially the leadership of the Association of Black Seminarians. It has been a moving testimony of covenant community to see how diverse students united to lament the pain of having to worship in a chapel named for a slaveholder, opponent of abolitionism, and advocate for the American Colonization Society, which sought to send freed Blacks to Africa.”
Barnes said as a founder of the seminary, Samuel Miller is, and will always be, a part of Princeton Theological Seminary’s story. “We are not trying to remove him from our history. Yet the board chose to disassociate his name from a place of tribute in the chapel, where the community gathers into the one body of Jesus Christ,” Barnes said. “As part of the historical audit, we want to ensure future generations will always know Samuel Miller’s story and the reasons why this generation believed that it was no longer appropriate to have his name synonymous with community worship. The chapel is the spiritual heart of our community. Its welcome must be as wide and healing as God’s love for us. May God continue to guide us as we seek to worship in spirit and in truth.”
Students are planning to gather in front of the chapel at 5 p.m. today to react to the trustees’ decision. The Association of Black Seminarians issued a statement on Wednesday, noting that the seminary trustees did not initiate the name change, and instead were pressured to consider it by the association and many other student groups.
“The names of buildings, including the chapel, have been on the hearts of students, including
current alumni, for years. The seminary’s action plan in response to its own historical audit on
slavery included vague information about renaming buildings on the campus, in which the
seminary said it would ‘honor the legacy of the African American experience at Princeton
Seminary through the names of prominent campus spaces.’ The discontentment of students,
division around attending chapel services, and the need for spiritual fortification is what catalyzed
students across all organizations to begin effectively organizing around this issue to ensure the
board of trustees took the matter seriously and acted urgently,” reads the statement by the Association of Black Seminarians.
On Dec. 1, the association presented school officials with a petition signed by about 300 people and every student organization on campus calling for a name change and action plan. More than 120 people participated in a demonstration last week, students held group prayer sessions and fasted, and seniors refused to preach their senior sermons in the Seminary Chapel as long as it held the “Miller” name.
“The community was prepared to declare the Seminary Chapel vacant until the name was removed and host an alternative chapel service location. Alumni, community members, clergy, and some faculty stood in support writing letters to the President’s office as well as individual trustees,” reads the association’s statement. “It is with great anticipation the community looks to the near future, as the renaming task force is established. We hope that this decision serves as a catalyst for more action steps in the seminary’s journey of repentance and reconciliation. The student body remains unified and will continue in these efforts until their promises are fulfilled and Princeton Theological Seminary becomes a true ‘covenant community’.”