By Woody Woodrick
When Heather Hensarling moved to her new pastoral appointment, she didn’t have to search for a place to live.
Her housing was provided by St. Luke United Methodist Church in
Hensarling has worked under both plans.
“One of the pluses of a parsonage is that it can be a matter of convenience,” she said the day after “move day,” when all conference pastors are expected to move to their new locations. “You don’t have to look for a place to live; it’s provided for you.
“Another advantage is what it does for the church to have that sense of pride and ownership in providing a safe and sacred space for the pastor and his or her family.”
Congregations in the
According to figures from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, 74 percent of the full-time United Methodist clergy in the
In the Southeastern Jurisdiction which includes the Mississippi Conference, 76 percent of full-time clergy live in parsonages.
The Western Jurisdiction has the lowest percentage of pastors living in parsonages at 45 percent.
However, a housing allowance does offer advantages to clergy.
“For the minister, the big picture is building some housing equity for years to come,” said the Rev. Jim Genesse of Long Beach First UMC. “That’s a nice benefit.”
That’s one of the reasons St. Matthews UMC in
“He wanted to establish some equity of his own,” said Tonorey, who grew up living in parsonages. “One of the problems for a pastor is that they don’t get equity (living in parsonages). If something happens to the pastor, the family doesn’t have anything.”
Hensarling said having a housing allowance gives a pastor some private space. “Because we live such public lives, our home is very sacred,” she said. “Being able to choose where you live can sort of balance that public life.”
Genesse has experienced living in parsonages and his own home. When appointed to Jackson Christ UMC from a church in Booneville, Genesse had to come up with a down payment and furniture. However, when appointed to
When considering the issue, churches and clergy can make just as many points for housing allowances as living in a parsonage.
By owning a home, pastors build equity toward having a permanent home when they retire. Owning a home also gives the pastor control over furnishings, decorating and maintenance. Most pastors have at least one story of haggling with a parsonage committee about the furnishings or condition of a parsonage.
That’s one of the reasons the Rev. Paul Luckett of
He pointed out that many church members become attached to parsonages because of donated items in the house. A pastor’s desire for a housing allowance can lead to dissension, Luckett said.
“The main goal is to promote Jesus Christ,” Luckett said. “You have to do things in a loving way to reach an agreement.”
From a church’s standpoint, paying a housing allowance relieves the church of paying a mortgage, insurance and other costs associated with home ownership. However, a housing allowance factors into clergy compensation and, therefore, apportionments. A parsonage is not considered compensation.
Location, location, location
Location can also be a factor for the church and pastor, especially in relation to the cost of housing. For example, in
A random selection of counties reveals:
While homes in the Ridgeland-Madison area can be pricey, Tonorey said mid-range homes are available. “Our area is unique,” she said. “There are a lot of houses you could buy. In other places you would have to provide a house.”
Another location-related factor would be the ease of purchasing or selling a home. “I can see where in certain markets trying to purchase a home or trying to sell one could be very difficult,” Genesse said. “That would be an extra burden when they need to be worried about moving into their appointment or moving on to the next one.”
Genesse points to the
Boyce Googe, Staff-Parish chair at Tupelo St. Luke UMC, said the most readily available housing in that area is upper end. Tupelo St. Luke owns a parsonage.
"We don't have enough mid-range housing: $110,000 to $150,000 homes," he said. "Most of the market is growing, and we're talking about $200,000 to $250,000. It would be difficult to find housing with the salaries that pastors in this area make."
Conferences within The United Methodist Church set the standards for their parsonages. In
Genesse and Hensarling said they like the idea of unfurnished parsonages. Both said churches could provide major appliances but let pastors provide their own furniture.
“We need to stop furnishing parsonages,” Hensarling said. “The pastor would be able to purchase things that are personal to you and your character.”