Thanks to all the matriarchs who weighed in this week. You'd be amazed to learn that I only sent this question out yesterday, and we have a nice meaty feature for you this week!
How do y'all feel about living in a manse? My young friends tell me that "heck no, they won't go" if it involves a manse. My older friends tell me "don't even think about it." If no one wants them, why are churches hanging on to them as if they were the Holy Grail(s)? My church is in the throes of manse/no manse, so I'm wondering what others think. Is a manse an asset to the church or not? Is a manse an asset to the pastor - or not?
Our matriarch come back with the ambivalent-sounding, "Well, it depends." There are advantages and disadvantages. Your personal preferences can come into play. Your economic realities may also come into play. For instance, I'm not a minister, but let me tell you about buying my house. I can sum it up in one word.
On that note, says Karen, who has lived in two manses so far, "If your church is in a place where housing is really expensive, a manse may alllow you to live in that neighborhood even though it would be totally beyond your buying capacity otherwise. My new community has astronomically expensive housing. We are currently renting and trying to figure out if we can ever even hope to buy in town. If not, we'll be living and sending our kids to school in a whole different town and community than the one in which most congregation members live and send kids to school. I think in the case of a town/community with very high housing costs, a manse can be an important asset for the church and the pastor."
Jan also notes affordability as a major factor in evaluating whether to take up in a manse. "The manse of one church I know is in an impossibly expensive neighborhood and it's the only way most pastors could afford to live anywhere near the church building," she says. "Some churches insist on having the pastor live in the neighborhood which can be either very thoughtful or very controlling, depending on the congregation."
It can depend on where you are in your life, too. "Manses are usually quite close to the church. When I was young and single, I hated living next door to the church. When I had infants/toddlers/pre-schoolers it was WONDERFUL to be able to leap up from the dinner table three minutes before a meeting was supposed to start and walk the two blocks to the church," writes Karen. "Also. it can depend on whether you are a house proud/decorating nut kind of person. I'm much more into the vibe of a neighborhood than I am into my particular house. I hate decorating. I'm not that into gardening though I love a good veggie patch out back. Remodeling would send me right around the bend. I'm actually happy to have some of those things out of my hands, so I didn't mind living in a house where I did not have total creative control. But that would drive other people nuts."
Peripatetic Polar Bear lived in a manse for her first call--6 years. "I'm single, minimum paid. The only chance I have of living in an actual house is to live in a manse, so I loved it. I miss it. I loved being right next to everything. I loved not having to spend "my" time commuting; I loved being able to pop home for something in the middle of the day." Other benefits over renting and buying a home she mentions: You might not be responsible for big repairs, you don't have to come up with a downpayment or a security deposit, it's just plain easier...
Does it fit you?
What are your options if you don't live in a manse? Does it accommodate all of your housing needs? "If you're choosing between renting a crummy apartment in a building with a dozen grad students [or any number of other perhaps less desirable neighbors], or living in a manse, it's not a hard decision," writes PPB. "I think, though, that many clergy have spouses and partners who may work, and they may prefer to live in a nicer place than the church manse, or may prefer a different location/number of bedrooms, different school district, etc."
One of PPB's colleagues just took a call as an associate for youth "in a super-rich community that provides her with a manse that is actually a condo in a really lively development, with lots of singles and young couples around--a pool and tennis membership, and all the yard work covered by the condo association," she says. "They also buy an annual maintanence plan that covers all the repairs, including appliances. What a great decision on the church's part! (They bought the condo outright after selling a manse that was next door to the church.) It's perfect for most younger pastors, and if it isn't--renting a condo is a snap."
There's also a certain amount of convenience in having a manse available, says Singing Owl. "It was also a big advantage that, when moving to a new church, we knew that at the end of the road our home was waiting. So we could simply unload the U-Haul and get settled. It's very much less stressful than trying to rent, then look for a house, or whatever. Neither home was particularly nice, but not horrible either," she says.
So what's the bad news?
With all these perks of living in a manse (or parsonage, or rectory, or whatever it's called), why on earth would anyone have reservations?
PPB notes that the biggest challenge with a manse is that "it's 'the church's house' —hence the women's guild can meet there, committee meetings should be held there, and of course the Sunday school can use the swingset. I think churches need to be really intentional about not letting these things happen. The manse is part of the compensation, and you shouldn't be able 'use it' any more than you can 'use' $10,000 of the pastor's salary."
Just the same, it happens, and privacy can be a real concern. "One issue with a manse—especially if you are a single woman—is that this means that someone/several someones in the congregation has a key to your house which, of course, is 'their house' and, depending on the culture of the congregation, you might find someone in your kitchen repairing the sink when you come home for lunch," says Jan. "I found that there was more of this when I was single because I was considered more helpless or something, and they weren't going to walk in on me and my husband if they 'dropped by' to check the water heater. Be careful of this."
Singing Owl has a funny story about this. "At our first church there was actually a short tunnel that led from the basement of the house to the basement of the church. This was actually a wonderful thing because it was the "northwoods" of Wisconsin and often bitterly cold. On a nasty day, it was possible to go to work without even stepping outside. Once, however, I was standing in the kitchen in my slip, doing a last-minute ironing on my dress. The basement door popped open and there stood an embarrassed and very confused teenaged boy--a visitor no less. He had gotten separated from his friend and had no idea he was about to open a door into a house and not into a church."
A home of your own
Manses seem to be disappearing of late. In my new church, the rectory is on the market and being used as a transitional shelter for a few homeless men in town. The equity of a manse can be leveraged for a capital campaign, or it can be rented out for ongoing income, either residential or commercial (I've seen several churches renting property to nonprofit health-care entities such as Hospice or a women's counseling service.) Jan writes, "Many congregations through the years have sold their manses specifically for the sake of the pastor's financial health. They sold the manse and used the proceeds to build a "housing fund" to help the pastor buy a home to build equity. Again, in expensive areas, some churches are regretting that they sold their manses because, even if they can help their pastor a little, it's not enough to live in the church neighborhood." But, as Singing Owl writes, "If you live in a manse all your ministry days you never develop equity in a home."
Keep telling me that. I just found out I need to do the $10,000 improvement to my driveway NOW instead of on my five-year plan...