dKTsxEA pastor’s residence is her retreat, her haven, her household’s headquarters. This week’s question is about her pastoral housing choice: to live in the church parsonage or not?

Dear Matriarchs:

I am UM and moving to a new appointment. The church has a parsonage, and they indicated that it was our choice to either move into the parsonage or take the housing allowance. I was really hoping to move into the parsonage because it is in an ideal location. However, after walking through the property, my husband and I agreed that we would look for a house and take the housing allowance. I could have lived with the fact that there was no garage. It has a lot of square footage, but it was largely outdated. In particular the bathrooms looked cramped and in need of major renovation. I also didn’t care for the washer and dryer being in the kitchen.

So the new trustee chair emailed me to introduce himself and he stated that he was concerned when we didn’t take the parsonage that future pastors would also have the same reaction. I know that they care for the property. They put in a new central AC system two years ago. The hardwood floors look nice. The kitchen was in decent shape updated probably in the 90’s. But the rest of the house was stuck in the 70’s. I know that most parsonages are not current, so I was hoping to at least suggest renovating the bathrooms and relocating the washer and dryer at some point. So I have a month and a half before I begin, and the trustees will want to talk about the condition of the parsonage.

I am asking you to help me with ideas of how to speak with grace but also with truth about the state of the parsonage. Tips, warnings, or stories about your parsonage/manse experience would be welcome.

Julia Seymour
Dear friend, I am on the other side of this same coin. I accepted living in a parsonage because the last settled pastor encouraged the congregation to update and repair the house to improve it and make it more appealing for the next person. I am very grateful. Ironically, the washer and dryer are in the kitchen area because what is now a very nice, large open kitchen used to be two smaller, darker rooms. One of the bathrooms was updated and the other was fine as is (though the toilet leaves something to be desired). I would say the house I have, for which I am grateful, is about 80% what I love and 20% what I can live with.

For you, I recommend figuring out what would absolutely need to change before you could move in, what could change in, say, 6 months- 1 year, and what you could adjust to. I’m in a parsonage that was first built in the 1920s, then updated in the 1960s, again in an unknown decade, and then in the last two years. If it feels uncomfortable to do a walk through with a trustee, I would suggest making a list in the classic “shit sandwich” format- the “bad news” sandwiched between what’s good/great/acceptable and what you’re looking forward to with the congregation. It may also be worth pointing out that you could rent, so they can work on the parsonage undeterred by occupants. I would suggest, however, that they make a tight timeline for the repairs. If they know they have until your next appointment (7 years?) to do the work, it may drag out and get worse before it gets better.

Sharon Temple
I had one parsonage experience and it was a good one. I attribute that to trustees who were responsive to repair/maintenance needs and yet didn’t intrude where they were not invited.

Your church trustees seem sincere in wanting to know what they can do to make the parsonage appealing to you & future pastors. They are looking to you as the expert on that — they cannot see through a pastor’s eyes — so please given them the honest truth. You have other options for housing, and those options can motivate them to do the work and in a timely manner. If you do have to rent transitional housing while they do the work, negotiate some significant assistance to make that extra move into the parsonage.

Our Matriarchs have offered their wisdom and now invite you to share yours.

  • What is your experience in requesting repairs/renovation in your current or future parsonage?
  • What parsonage/manse experiences can you share that could help others enjoy living in church-provided housing?Let us know in the comments below.

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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3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Negotiating Your Best Parsonage

  1. I’m in my third call and third parsonage. The first one promised to build/buy a new house for the parsonage so we moved into the 100 year old building that was updated 50 years ago. Unpleasant and they would not update or purchase a new place.
    Next call had a parsonage built in 1980 and not updated other that carpet replaced. Because of water damage in basement (and mold) they tore out and remodeled basement bathroom and bedroom; upstairs had vinyl flooring replaced while we were there.
    On my third parsonage experience, they realized when every interviewee wanted to live elsewhere they needed to update. They did a major kitchen and laundryroom update and minor bathroom update, new light fixtures throughout the upstairs. Basement was left as is and I could put up with that.
    Parsonage issues for me dictated the health of the congregation. Where I am at now is wonderful and respectful. The parsonage has some things I put up with but mostly it is a comfortable and pleasant place.
    Interestingly, all three calls were in rural small towns about the same size.
    Blessings as you discern which is best for you.


  2. I’ve had only one parsonage experience. And it was not a choice. I could live there rent free or continue to live in my own home with no housing allowance. On the whole, it was comfortable. All the walls were painted, and they complied with my insistence on removing the gross carpet. The kitchen, though, was marginal. I finally had to ask the all male building committee to have their wives come in and look at it. They did replace the flooring and appliances.


  3. I’ve lived in 3 manses over the years, & owned a house in between. Each was different styles, 2 ranch & an older house with 3 stories. Both were mostly well kept up. The congregation
    s were mostly responsive, although sometimes slow… When I owned a house, all I could afford was an older place, which took lots of money when things broke, & lots of inconvenience in setting up repair appts.


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