Monday, May 28, 2007

Life by Committee

We live in a beautiful home. It's a four bedroom ranch honme surrounded by a privacy wall and now gorgeous gardens Martha has cultivated. The equity we pulled from our Minneapolis home was insufficient to purchase anything in our area here, so we decided to move into the church-owned parsonage on the church property.
Both of our parents lived in parsonages. We were both born in and raised in parsonages. Our first homes (internship in Kansas and Lafayette, Indiana) were parsonages. Our parents did not purchase their own homes until we were married and on our own. Their advice to us was clear: buy your own place, build your own equity, make your own decisions.
Well, that was good advice when the housing markets were reasonable and growing and interest rates were low. We did that with the help of the Muskegon Michigan church. We purchased a beautiful little Cape Cod home with a big yard and Martha went to work on it. For seven and a half years we relished owning our own place, making our own calls, hiring our own workmen, making changes, additions, and repairs. The house sold easily when we moved to Minneapolis, where we bought our second home. The same process happened in Minneapolis. It was our refuge and our project. We claimed storage spaces into work-rooms, fenced the garden and recarpeted some areas and refinished wood floors in others. And again, after thriteen years, the house sold quickly because it appreciated well.
So we moved into the parsonage here without children to care for and twenty years of home-ownership under our belt. We also accepted the economic and spiritual reality that home ownership in Santa Barbara was an out-of-reach fantasy, economically impossible for the church and for us. So this arrangement is really quite nice. We live in a home far nicer than we could afford on our own, within walking distance to work and with adequate bedrooms to house children, parents and guest when they visit. The church greatly respects our privacy and we have no problem with maintaining good boundaries between work-life and private life.
The rub comes in decision-making. The parsonage, as a piece of church property is under church governance and that means a committee. When we see the need for a repair or replacement, there is the challenge of persuading others that this is a good thing at a reasonable price (since it is not our money being spent). I find myself in the role of cheerleader and salesman again, though this time about our private living space.
While it is weird, I think it is the wave of the future for ministry in high-rent areas. There is no way normal pastors can afford to buy their own homes in $1 million + areas. It forces the churches to allocate too much budget money to living expenses, stretches pastoral budgets too tightly and makes artificial millionaires of pastors, who get chained to their own real estate wealth. I'm amazed at the pastors in this area who own their own homes and never plan to leave. What does that say about God's sovereign call? So, back to parsonage living and life by committee. While it's awkward and bulky, I think it is the right way to do things, but we all need some help and tutorial guidance about how to do it more gracefully and smoothly.


At 5:30 PM , Blogger Andrew Stonina said...

I must say that I agree with most of your comments, but you forgot one important ministry context where the parsonage is a part of the compensation and that is the rural area. Of course the committees and decision making still has to be dealt with, but the rural church may not be able to pay a pastor enough to be able to afford a mortgage, so a parsonage happens to become a part of the compensation package. I am finding this out first hand in my dealings with a church. Although, as far as ministry in a suburban area or even urban, I am sure that as intrest rates rise and house prices rise that more and more churches will be looking at parsonages again. And why not? After all the pastor is supposed to be close to church! Aren't they?

At 8:42 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Absolutely correct Andrew. I was thinking about only one end of the economic continuum.


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