Manse updates

Dear BPC members and friends,

If you weren’t at the Dec. 21 worship service, you may not have heard the news that Mark Wells shared on behalf of the Session and the Trustees concerning the future of the church’s manse. As part of a joint meeting with the Trustees and after much discussion, the Session voted to begin the process of recommending to the congregation that the manse be sold. Proceeds of the sale would be retained by the Presbyterian Church in Burlington for its ministry and mission, likely providing supplemental salary/housing allowance support for the next installed Pastor of the church over a period of many years.

The proposed sale can only take place with a congregational vote AND a Presbytery vote. In good Presbyterian tradition, this will take place “decently and in order” and “if the way be clear”, which is Presbyterian-speak for “there are rules and regulations for how to do this, so nothing is going to happen very soon.” We Presbyterians are not very nimble in matters such as these! A small group from the Session and Trustees will first meet with the Trustees of Boston Presbytery who will review the process, discuss the reasons why Session is recommending the sale, learn how the funds would be used, and verify that this benefits the mission and ministry of the congregation.

In the Presbyterian system, congregations hold property “in trust for” the Presbyterian Church (USA). What does that mean? In practical terms, it means if a congregation goes out of existence, the property ultimately belongs to the Presbytery which must then decide to sell it and use the proceeds for the mission and ministry of the Presbytery. Likewise, if a congregation decides to sell property, such as a manse, Presbytery will want to be sure that the proceeds of the sale are used for the mission and ministry of the particular church.

Why sell the manse? There are a number of reasons, but here’s a primary one: a Presbyterian Board of Pensions study in 2010 showed that 11% of pastors rent; 77% own their houses (with or without a mortgage) and only 10% live in congregation–owned housing (if you’ve been adding this up, yes, there are 2% of pastors who live in “Other” arrangements, which are not specified). In the 1960’s, when Burlington’s manse was purchased, 6% of pastors rented, 26% owned their own homes (with or without mortgage) and 64% of pastors lived in church owned housing (and 4% “Other”). The desire for equity has driven the dramatic change in pastor-owned housing.

Why not rent the manse? One reason not to: if a clergyperson is not living in the manse, it goes back on the tax rolls. It also places the Trustees in the position of being landlords, and I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think those Trustees joined the church so that they could be landlords, with all the attendant headaches.

As a pastor who has lived in a manse at my first two churches, owned houses at the next two, and who is now renting, I can attest that living in a manse can be a tricky emotional “negotiation” between pastor, spouse, and congregation. Pastors can feel that they are placed in a very “dependent” situation. They may hold back in making requests, lest they be seen as demanding (but making a spouse unhappy), or what they feel is a reasonable request might be interpreted by some as being “pushy”. Put another way, how many of you have to ask your boss at work about having repairs done at your house or apartment?

Moving forward, the whole process will be transparent, and the congregation will be fully informed. The final decision will be the congregation’s in collaboration with the Presbytery. Time can be set aside for some questions and answers at this month’s Annual Meeting of the congregation, remembering that we are very early in a lengthy process.

I’m looking forward to our Annual Meeting, which I have never seen done on a Saturday before. Just hoping that the Patriots’ second-round playoff game isn’t scheduled for Jan. 17 in the early afternoon!



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