I’ve heard people say, “parsonage” or “rectory” when discussing a pastor’s place of residence. Which is it?
A: Thankfully, centuries ago, church people decided to build houses for their spiritual leaders to live in while they ministered to their congregations. In the Christian church we call this designated building by several different names: parsonage, manse, vicarage and rectory to name a few.
The pastors of the Methodist, Baptist and Nazarene churches all live in parsonages while Presbyterians are housed in a manse. In England, the spiritual leader resides in a vicarage. And almost always, the Catholic or Episcopal priest’s home is referred to as the rectory. They all mean the same thing: the dwelling place of the working minister. The idea of housing the minister began when Jesus traveled around the Jordon River regions in need of a temporary place to dwell. Many hospitable souls opened their doors to honor and provide shelter for him as he journeyed.
After Christ’s crucifixion, as Christianity spread via the 12 disciples, the early church exploded into every surrounding nation, eventually jumping borders then continents and bringing the “good news” of the Savior Jesus all over the world. But the masses and their leaders didn’t embrace the message with joy at first, so the early Church spent its infancy quietly preaching, teaching and praising God underground in the catacombs and secret meeting places beneath the streets of the cities. These early ministers relied on the kindness of new converts to supply a dwelling place for them — often risking intense persecution and death.
Yet the Christian church persevered and the faithful kept the message moving forward. Some of these ancient saints set down their packs in foreign lands and bravely built houses of worship. In those days, a room was then set aside for the attending man of God. (Women were not invited into pulpits until around 1850.) Many times those primitive churches blossomed into abbeys and convents containing numerous buildings to house the devoted clergy who made it their life’s work to serve people and the Lord. The idea behind the pastor’s house rooted into the blueprints of church construction and soon it became a standard.
First Timothy 5:17 informs us, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” First Thessalonians 5:12 explains, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” I quote those scriptures not to validate myself or my housing needs, but to remind us all that the Bible does urge us to honor the working ministers. Providing shelter for them, like helping Jesus with housing along his journey, is indeed biblical. It is also helpful: There are many occasions of crisis or need when the commute to the sanctuary must be short.
Before my turn came in the pulpit, while God was refining me for the office I now hold, I wasn’t a good church member. Often frustrated with my pastoral care, overly critical of biblical instruction and downright hard on the people who tried to minister to me, I scoffed that pastors were imperfect and often unfit. I’ve since deeply regretted my attitude, now understanding the price paid by the hard-working pastor. Thank God my immaturity and ignorance of the profession didn’t translate to the level of God’s grace for me. And he even gave me a congregation who provides me with a beautiful home to live in.
My congregation is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. The parsonage, just 25 feet from the church’s side door, was constructed only a few years after the church’s cornerstone was placed. No one but clergy and their families have ever lived in my house. It does not escape me that the walls are saturated with all that history, all those floor-walking pastors; their joys, tears, fears and passions. It’s stunning to think about all that business with God going on for nearly two centuries in the very rooms where I now reside. If the walls could talk! (I would take notes.)