oyaBbnkSabbatical planning includes many things: when to go, what to do with the time, what will the congregation do while the pastor is away? But what about the “empty” parsonage? Here’s the scenario:

Hello Friends – I am starting to plan for first and only (given my age and stage) sabbatical. Hurrah! My wife and I live in the church parsonage and I was asked recently about the possibility of the church lending out our home to a sabbatical minister during the time that we are gone. I am averse to this idea as it makes it harder for us to be flexible as we make plans; as there will be no “home” to land in if we choose to come and go for part of the time Even more than that I feel like it is an infringement of our privacy and also says something about how this is a church house, not our home. This is my first time living in a parsonage never mind my first sabbatical! Anyhow, I am sure that we will work through it all as we continue conversation but if anyone has had an experience like this with sabbatical leaves and parsonages I would love to hear your wisdom. Thanks!

Jennifer Burns Lewis begins our conversation:
I hope this sabbatical planning pastor could take the opportunity of being approached about the housing to have a pro-active conversation with the appropriate committees or teams at the church about her plans— including the desire to be flexible. Sabbaticals are new terrain for lots of congregations, and can raise the anxiety for the congregation as well as some practical realities for the congregation during the time that the pastor is on sabbatical leave.
A good, thorough conversation that addresses planning in advance for coverage and boundaries and hopes for the time apart helps everyone manage their expectations. The Lily program has some great guidance on their website, and there’s a good older book out by the Alban Institute by Bullock called Clergy Renewal that is very helpful for planning and conversations.

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath sees red flags:
Oh boy! There are at least two red flags waving in the wind here. First, would be the need for a clearer understanding of what a sabbatical entails. It is a leave but for the purpose of renewal and education which is meant to benefit the pastor AND the congregation. That’s why they get to help foot the bill. Jennifer’s suggestions for framing that part of the conversation are great. Also, you might lean into your judicatory on this one. As much as the congregation might like to figure out how to lessen the cost of your sabbatical, they need to understand that by its very nature, this experience will bring additional costs, including housing for supply/sabbatical staffing. Second rosy pennant, the parsonage is your home and you get to decide if there are out of town guests enjoying sleep-overs. That might actually mean being open to visiting clergy, but you should get to decide if and who and when. Enjoy your time away!

Sung Min Moy gives the question a very interesting twist:
I think the only thing I would add to the above suggestions is if anyone in the congregation would open their home to a pastor who is filling in. The church hopefully would respect that the parsonage is your home, and that you are still their pastor even though you are on sabbatical. I hope that some kind of mutually satisfying resolution can be made in this situation.

Another thought from Heidi:
I noticed that the question of housing the sub was framed as a “possibility.” One of the difficulties of this kind of forum is not hearing the “tone” of a question. Hopefully the congregational member was just floating out a possibility and not making a hurtful assumption. Even if it was the latter, sometimes responding as if it was the former helps keep a possible conflict from developing.

And a good word from Kelley Wehmeyer Shin:
My prayer, as with other Matriarchs who have posted, is that your Sabbatical will be a time of rest and renewal for you. Part of that renewal process is to resolve this conflict in a way that honors your need for your home to be “your space” and allows for a healthy conversation with your church leaders about what their concerns are regarding the cost of the sabbatical. Moments like these, as difficult as they are, create opportunities for meaningful conversations. Blessings.

So many good suggestions from our Matriarchs about the question her congregation has raised. Is there no end to the ways that congregations can offer up opportunities for meaningful conversations? The very nature of ministry itself, perhaps?

How about you, dear reader? Have you worked through a conversation with your congregation when they approached you with an idea of how to use the parsonage? What advice would you give this pastor?

What difficult conversation are you having — or do you need to have — with your congregation? Send your scenario to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX.   She is a contributor to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Whose House Is It, Anyway?

  1. In my understanding and experience, the parsonage – housing – is part of the pastoral compensation package. So by asking you to open your home to another during your sabbatical, this representative of the congregation suggests that you forfeit part of your compensation to make your sabbatical economically feasible for the congregation.

    When I was a new seminary graduate, I provided sabbatical coverage for a pastor who forfeited 50% of his compensation during his sabbatical, in order to secure a paid half time sabbatical interim (me), because leadership was unwilling to budget for it. Without that arrangement the sabbatical would not have been approved. It caused economic, emotional and spiritual strain for the pastor and their family and made it difficult for them to enjoy the benefits of sabbatical. It also caused strain between the pastor and congregation.

    Dear colleague: your home, owned by the church or not, is your home. Your compensation package should not decrease because you enter a time of renewal. I do not believe you are asking too much. It may be the congregation has not pondered the other ramifications of the request. Go gently and pastorally as you explain, but do not feel as if it is necessary to apologize for what you need. Blessings!


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