What is the minimum housing that should be offered to a member of the clergy with a growing family? Are standards prescribed by the Church Commissioners? If not, who makes the decision?
Clergy housing is unusual in that the parsonage (rectory or vicarage) is held by the incumbent in what is known as the clergy freehold of property. This remains the case for new incumbents despite Common Tenure, except for priests-in-charge. The parsonage is, therefore, the house held for that purpose and vacated by the previous incumbent unless it is sold and another purchased, even for a priest-in-charge, so in that sense no “decision” is made. A diocese is normally reluctant to make any large-scale alterations to suit one particular incumbent.
The Green Guide on parsonage design issued by the Pastoral Division of the Church Commissioners deals in recommendations rather than laying down standards that have to be adhered to. It advises, for example, that “occasionally, it may be right to demolish parts of an over-large house or to extend a small one,” without specifying the context, such as a growing family, that might influence the latter decision.
We do know of at least one case where an incumbent was able, as his family grew, to make use of additional living space, originally sealed off by the diocese during conversion work because it was seen as exceeding the recommended square footage. Once this additional space was opened up, thanks to vastly improved access arrangements, it has proved an asset gratefully received by all subsequent incumbents.
This was a one-off, though. In general, our advice would be to try to exercise your ministry in a parish possessing one of the few remaining traditional parsonages, which offer plentiful space for family and can host a wide variety of parochial and community activities at the same time.
Anthony Jennings (Director, Save Our Parsonages)
Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG. firstname.lastname@example.org