A long time ago in a land far away, when all clergy were assigned to their parishes by bishops, the tradition got started that churches had to provide housing for their parish pastors. (The practice also has roots in clergy taking vows of poverty — so they didn’t own their own houses, or money to buy them. As opposed to the church institution itself, which at the time had plenty of money.)
The practice of housing being provided for pastors in the church parsonage, or manse as they’re sometimes called, continues today. And there are upsides and downsides.
The upside is that you don’t have to do a real estate transaction every time you move (though many clergy do work out alternate arrangements to buy their own homes, and some churches do sell their parsonages).
The downside is that, in an age when many churches are struggling to pay the bills, parsonage maintenance is often one of the lower priorities. We’ve been in some lovely homes over the years. But we’ve also moved into some disasters.
The worst was the parsonage in Fort Anne, NY, where on the first morning in the new house, Brooke plugged her hair dryer into the outlet by the bathroom sink and when she turned it on the exhaust fan in the ceiling came on instead of the hair dryer. (To save money, someone in the church had wired the bathroom instead of having an electrician do it. They had wired the whole bathroom in series — on two wires, no ground.)
That parsonage also had wall plaster being held in place with duct tape and a hole in the middle of the living room floor that they’d covered over with a piece of plywood. When we asked about getting it fixed so our newborn kid wouldn’t fall through it the response was, “just put a rug over it.”
The nicest parsonage was in Ballston Spa. It was in perfect condition, in a nice neighborhood. Not extravagant, but a place anyone would like to live. The second nicest was the one we just came from in Jay, NY. So we were a little spoiled coming into this move.
This parsonage, like most, is somewhere in the middle. It’s a nice house. It’s a huge house. Bigger than what we need, and more than the church really needs. And it’s a stretch for the church to maintain it, but they’re doing the best they can. And the previous pastor, a well-loved man who had been here for 7 years, wasn’t the handiest of fellows. So there were a few issues.
- The doorbell didn’t work. In a large house you need a working doorbell.
- The front doors didn’t work. They stuck.
- The back door latch was broken and the back door stuck.
- Several drains were clogged.
- Several drawers in the kitchen were mis-installed and didn’t run on their tracks.
- A closet light was hanging from wires out of a hole in the wall.
- There were no towel bars installed in the bathroom.
There were other issues that the church folk did their best to fix during the short interlude between the previous pastor’s moving out and our moving in. They did the best they could. I’m not complaining or holding it against them. They’ve all been great and have gone to a lot of trouble to welcome us to our new home. We appreciate everything they’ve done.
On the whole these are not a lot of issues, and they’re all things I can fix myself. I’ve taken care of most of them in the two weeks we’ve been here. Anyone might discover things like this moving into any new home. It’s part of moving.
It’s also a little like being in an episode of This Old House. Only you get to do it every 2-4 years, on average.
We’re hoping that, now that the kid is going into 6th grade, we’ll be able to stay put until he graduates from high school. That’s 7 years. The previous pastor managed to stay that long. It could happen.