A few weeks ago, a former pastor of our church who recently fell asleep in Jesus was interred here. The day before the service, his family arrived at the old stomping grounds. Broke into the old apartment . . . this is where we used to live . . . .
So we invited them in. This wasn't one of those courtesy open houses so everybody from church can see that you're not trashing the place and you pretty much figure no one's going to ask to go upstairs (NB: they might). These people grew up here. They were in no way forward or presumptuous, but even I can cipher serviceably enough to figure out that this was more their house than ours. We warned them that we live here and we have five kids, and then we opened every last door. It was nice. :) And how else would we ever have learned that there actually IS a laundry chute?
(An aside before I get all up in your grill. The previous lady of this house told me that to clean one ill-placed window, she would lay a plank from the balcony railing to the window sill, climb out on it over the stairs, and scrub suspended between heaven and earth. Let me tell you, neither that window nor its blinds--which I have given many a resigned thought--are getting cleaned as long as I'm this place's sorry excuse for the lady.)
On to your grill. In seminary there was a general impression that you didn't want a parsonage. It wasn't your house. Church people would expect to be able to come in all the time. They wouldn't take care of problems. They'd pick ugly paint. They wouldn't replace carpets. Oh, those awful church people, whoever they are! And equity, won't someone think of equity??
Here are the disclaimers: as I've confessed before, I'm not exactly an HGTV junkie. Decorative aesthetics are nowhere near the top of my domestic priority list. There are some things about this house that would probably make more attentive homemakers completely freak out, whereas I merely find them funny. There also isn't a white-glove committee from the Ladies Aid stopping in to inspect my mantles for proper dusting. If something needs to be fixed or we want to change something, not only is it not a big deal, but someone from church usually comes over to help. I'm not talking about the horror stories.
But outside of the horror stories, I've got to give the bad parsonage press a hearty MEH. There is no way our parish would be able to offer a salary that could have landed us in a house like this, which allows us to quarter a growing number of people more than comfortably. I have a hard time imagining many congregations of our beloved Synod (at least, not the kind that would call my beloved husband) putting us up so well from a paycheck. And I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb (or a plank 12 feet over my stairs) to suggest that getting out of debt profundis may be of greater relevance to most fresh-faced seminary graduates than more advanced financial achievements like equity.
As for the parsonage horror stories themselves: I recently heard another from someone. If this particular incident had happened to me, in this parsonage, with this congregation, it would not have bothered me in the least. Again, I would have found it funny. I don't know what the context was; I'm sure there was plenty of back story involved. I'm guessing it had a lot more to do with the parish than the parsonage proper. It's hard to imagine a messed up parish and a bad parsonage situation not being pretty tangled up in each other.
Since we've lived here, we've had rocks thrown at our bedroom window in the middle of the night (the phone wasn't working), dozens of centerpieces constructed in our dining room and stored in our living room several times, other large items stored in our garage to the exclusion of our car, use made of our dryer and clothesline, calls from the school requesting clean underoos in a kindergarten size, and various other zany events. Yesterday afternoon someone stopped by to see if we had a hair dryer they could use to defrost a church refrigerator. (Not only do I have a hair dryer, but I also almost never have time to use it, so no rush! Thanks for defrosting over there!) To us these aren't horror or even grumpy stories. They're funny stories about our church and its good and hardworking people, among whom we feel blessed to count ourselves. It wouldn't occur to me to call them grumpy stories if I hadn't heard similar tales classified as such by other pastors' wives.
So there's also some back story on the pro-parsonage side. There's some merit to our very house being owned by the people charged with our care, whose care in turn has been charged to the pastor who lives in it. In our case, it's like a good marriage, where both parties' default position is respect and care; where the conversation starts with "Not to be nosy, but can we help you with that busted screen?" and "Come on in, you're always welcome, and look out for the bowls on the floor because the little guys have been cooking" rather than "What makes you think you can just show up here?" and "Who owns this house anyway?"
And really, who does own this house? They do. It's just true. And who would own our house if we owned it? Well . . . still not us. And who always needs a lesson in humility? I do.
One other thing: although there are trustees here, the congregation's care of our house is not something that happens on some totally official, corporate level. Someone visits and notices the ants which we were perfectly willing to live with; she calls an exterminator. Someone else stops by with his tiller when he's making the rounds in the spring. Someone who does like HGTV can't sleep knowing that the paint in our kitchen is chipping and she repaints for us. Someone who knows one of our kids loves gardening buys a monster cantaloupe and puts it in that kid's squash plant as a joke. Etc.
There's more to be said about this, but as usual I've gone on way too long. I'm glad we're here, and I'm glad we're in a parsonage. I know it doesn't always work out this well.