My husband and I have been blessed. Both parishes that he has served have not required us to live in a church-owned home. Call it the parsonage, the manse, or whatever else you might call it, the arrangement can have both benefits and drawbacks.
The benefit of living in a parsonage is especially clear when it comes time to relocate. Whether the overarching church body requires the move or the pastor has a choice, it is much simpler to pack up one house and move to another, without having to deal with real estate sales and purchases and the hassle of home buying. It can be beneficial for the congregation to have the pastor “right there” on church property, knowing there is always someone keeping an eye on things or unlock the doors if needed. It also helps in terms of housing expenses for the pastor and his family. They don’t have to worry about making mortgage or tax payments, or stress out over increasingly high utility prices.
On the flip side, unless the church is willing to pay a stipend into a savings account for the pastor, his family will not have any home equity built up (of course, in this economy, owning a house no longer equals having equity either). When he retires, where does he go? If the pastor suddenly dies, does the family immediately have to move? We knew of a congregation who had lost their pastor in that way, and out of sympathy for the family allowed them to stay in the parsonage. This became complicated when they eventually called a new pastor, because they had to make alternative living arrangements for his family. The other down side for the pastor is one of the up sides for the congregation. Living right next door to the church means that the pastor is never really “off the clock.” Granted, a pastor is always on call, but when you live that close you truly do live in a fishbowl. People are more likely to stop by day or night, and the pastor’s job descriptions moves beyond being the shepherd of souls and into the realm of property caretaker.
Why would I talk about something we haven’t experienced? Because I grew up in the parsonage. My parents are currently living in their third church-owned home. And my husband and I did lived in such a house during his first ministry position. He was originally called to serve as a regional mission developer, and the overall district that employed him rented a vacant church house from a local congregation. That particular arrangement was the worst of both worlds. Because my husband was not that church’s pastor, the people didn’t have a vested interested in caring for us or the home we lived in. Repairs were not completed, and we eventually had to write a letter to the congregation president outlining the issues that were unacceptable and needed to be fixed, or else we would find another living arrangement. Not the best situation, I assure you.
We feel blessed that we have been able to buy not one, but three homes in our marriage. We know God has been blessing us with financial wisdom in more recent years, and we are thankful for the gifts He has given to us.