Traveling to my sister’s house between Christmas and New Year’s gave me a chance to revisit the concept of living in a church-owned house. In fact, she and I went for coffee one afternoon and talked about creating a manual for churches when they have a new pastor coming in, to make sure that the house is prepared and that information is shared. So here is my thoughts on the beginning of that manual.
Don’t assume that the new pastor and his wife and children are exactly like your old pastor, his wife and children. This is obvious when it comes to ministry, but is also a matter of not expecting their preferences of decor (including paint, wallpaper, carpet, and curtains) or level of cleanliness to be the same. Some people are willing to keep their trash cans in the garage ten feet behind the house. Others prefer to have easy access to them just outside the back door. And don’t even get me started on the bird motif in the kitchen.
Do take the time to walk through the house while it is empty to assess needed repairs and updates. This is a two-time job, once when the former pastor moves out and then again shortly before the new ones arrive. Of course, this all depends on the length of time the house sits empty. I am aware that some churches have new ministers in place within weeks of the old one leaving. But don’t assume that the repairs and walk-through done eighteen months ago still hold. Check the outlets, appliances, faucets and drains. Make sure the furnace works. And please, don’t just patch the holes in the walls and repaint the patched area with a different type of paint. Even if it’s the same color, flat and semi-gloss do not mix!
Don’t ignore the age or function of the various elements of the house. Yes, I know, there is an element of character to the parsonage. The arches are beautiful, and we love the built-in bookcases. It would just be nice if the bathroom door actually closed, and the kitchen cabinets had more than a six-inch clearance between the fixed shelves. If you have to throw a golf ball down the drain to fill the tub, that’s probably not the best method for taking a bath. And why on earth did you carpet the kitchen?
Do consider how you would feel living in the house. Please, take one or two women with you on the walk-through. And ask everyone involved to pretend they are house-hunting and considering the church-owned home for purchase. If you wouldn’t want to buy it or rent it, why do you want to make your pastor live with it as-is? Remember, your new pastor will probably be energized and excited as he begins work in your congregation and community. But he and his family deserve to have a comfortable place to relax, too.
Don’t assume that they will know the basics. Provide a list of things that you take for granted living in your town all these years. When is garbage day? Is there recycling, and what is the procedure? Where is the best grocery store? What kinds of jobs are available for the pastor’s wife? Which bank, hairdresser, dry cleaner, and playground do you recommend? All of these will ease the transition.
Do try to remember that it is their house, not yours. Despite the walk-through, ultimately the house provided to the pastor’s family is their home. So please do not assume you can just walk in any time you want, or make decisions about how they choose to decorate it. I realize there are some ground rules to be established (i.e., don’t paint the woodwork, pick up yard toys on mowing day, etc.) but please do not tell your pastor or his wife that their couch is unacceptable or their house must remain spotless for surprise inspections. They deserve to have a home, not a dormitory complete with house mother (or father).
I realize that some of these things are a bit over-the-top, but many come out of the experiences that I or others I know have shared. Remember, I grew up in a parsonage (two, actually). My husband and I have been fortunate to own our own homes other than during his first call, and even that was a different situation where we rented the house from a church. Whole different ball game, let me tell you. But my parents are now in their third parsonage, and my sister and her family in their second. These are thoughts that come out of those experiences.
I know some of you may be wondering why I shifted gears from our current situation. At this point, until decisions are finalized and the right people are informed, I have to take a break from writing about it. Details shared here would be jumping the gun. So I’m going back to the original purpose of this blog. Thanks for stopping by!