I cleaned our house today - I usually do this earlier in the week, but schedules never quite worked out for that to happen. Our house is three years old - built new right after I moved to Reidland. It's hard to believe three years has gone by. As you can see in the picture, we live in a very fine house.
Even though the house is still like new, there are a few things that need some attention. I contracted someone today to clean the gutters and pressure-wash the deck, which will need staining before it weathers too much more. I need to remove some mulch and replace it around the perimeter of the house where the landscaping is. Our church was very gracious in building a new parsonage, and I am going to do my best to be sure we keep it looking new. My family has always covenanted to leave the parsonages we lived in in better shape than when we moved in them.
I've been lucky throughout the years that I've never moved into a less-than-standard house. No house is perfect, but there weren't holes in the bathroom floors or leaky roofs or substandard wiring in them like some of the horror stories I have heard from others over the years.
However, I have to confess that some of my colleagues have given all of us pastors a bad name over the years. It is hard to believe, but some pastors simply trash their parsonages. They not only don't clean them, but they don't bother to repair them and alert folks to needed repairs. The word gets out that "You don't want to follow so-and-so, because you won't be able to move in to your house for two weeks - it won't be fit to live in!" It's been my experience that most church trustees are more than happy to address parsonage issues if you and the your family show an interest in maintaining and even improving it.
Some pastors resist such help - they see such as an intrusion of their privacy. While folks can certainly snoop more than they should, churches have a valid right to keep their property and assets in good condition... and if they've had previous (or present) pastors who don't take care of their parsonages, churches get understandably nervous, or even resentful, when yearly inspections or maintenance are not met with open arms by pastors and parsonage families. As a result, when it comes time to make a decision on whether to build a new parsonage, renovate a present one, or offer a housing allowance, the housing allowance is often chosen.
In our conference, parsonages are becoming an endangered species; more and more churches are moving toward a housing allowance. Financially, of course, this is advantageous to pastors - it allows them to build up equity. But from the point-of-view of the United Methodist itineracy, it can be disastrous: it puts another variable in a system that already has a lot of variables. In my Annual Conference, folks in Memphis tend to stay in Memphis - which ties the hands of the cabinet in making appointments. Add to that the "We have a house that we'd have to buy/sell" argument, or "We haven't amortized our house yet" plea, and it puts another kink into the itineracy - maybe a pastor needs to move, maybe a church needs the pastor to move, or both - but the pastor's finances (or lack of them!) end up making the final decision... something that the parsonage system eliminates. Add to that the fact that the spouse may have a job that they can't or don't want to leave, and itineracy becomes nearly impossible.
As a result, a multi-tiered itineracy becomes a reality. Our large membership churches are already in a tier by themselves. The next tier are churches who offer housing allowances, particularly in metropolitan areas: the advantage here is that pastors can be moved around in metro areas without worry about a pastor having to sell a house - they can usually keep the present house they live in. And then there are churches with parsonages. The advantage is that there are no homes to sell or buy, and pastors in this category are much more mobile and able to itinerate from farther distances away.
The snafu is when someone moves from one situation to another: you either have to buy a house, or sell a house. In our conference, that can happen with relatively short notice - and in this present economy, the housing market is very poor. Our parsonage is located in a new housing development of Paducah, and there are three houses for sale on our street... and they have been up for sale for nearly six months. The absolute worst case scenario is moving from an appointment that has a housing allowance to another appointment that has a housing allowance, and buying a house at your new location and being unable to sell the house in your previous location.
I'm not naive enough to think that other professions don't have this problem, but in theory, the itinerancy was designed to be able to deploy clergy to serve every church in an annual conference, sometimes very quickly. Parsonages helped the itineracy in this regard.
Given the increased difficulty of making pastoral appointments, and the present realities of parsonages, housing allowances, and two-income and two-profession families, it seems that United Methodism needs to do some thinking and rethinking.
- Is the itineracy really just dead - and should we bury it?
- If not, are we still committed to itinerant ministry?
- If so, do we need to reconsider the move toward housing allowances as the norm?
- Do we need to hold pastors financially accountable for damages, and insist on yearly inspections with D.S.'s present?
- Or do we need to ditch the itineracy and go to a modified call system?
Right now, it seems to be that we are in the worst of all worlds where the above is concerned. Any ideas?