Monday, August 05, 2013

The Money Pit

Awesome picture stolen from
It may need a little work, but at least it's not haunted.  And we can afford it, too, as long as we don't retire before 80.

Yes, friends, it's true:  Father A. and his family just bought a house.  The realtor called it an "older home," although we certainly wouldn't -- it's about our own vintage, so we're inclined to say it is middle-aged.  It is graying and could stand to lose a few pounds, but is still fit for duty.

This is the first house we have ever bought -- in fact, until last Wednesday, the most valuable thing we owned was a sofa.  (Literally:  it's worth more than our car.  Nice sofa, old car.)

Buying your first home is a big step for anybody -- it combines the wild exhilaration of achieving the American Dream with the vertiginous horror of unpayable debt and perpetual fear of changing real estate values.  In some ways, it may be a bigger step for the clergy, since (especially in the East) so many of us can get by without it.  Call it a rectory, manse or parsonage, older churches often have a home for their pastor.  For the last 23 years, we ourselves have lived in seminary dorms and and other church-owned housing.  Before that, we rented a series of typical New York apartments, each one fully the equal of your coat closet, if you happen to park your coat in an iffy neighborhood.  By comparison, the parsonages were often comically spacious, and -- with one memorable exception -- pleasant, well-maintained houses.

The truth is that we like parsonages.  Our Mom grew up in one, and we wouldn't mind if our kid grew up in one as well.  In high-rent areas (like the one from which we just moved, and as it happens the one in which we now live) a parsonage can be a real blessing to a congregation, enabling it to call and retain a pastor whom it could not otherwise pay enough to live in the neighborhood.  Not to mention that they make it easier for everybody if the pastor needs to move on quickly.

For the pastors themselves, the parsonage is a sketchier proposition.  It builds no equity, which means that after thirty or forty years of parsonage living, you can easily wind up with no place to live and no money to buy a place.  We have seen this happen, and it isn't pretty.  Both pastors and congregations are encouraged to create housing-equity accounts to prevent this, but ... well, sometimes that just doesn't happen.  This is probably why churches don't build them as often anymore.

We are excited about our new pad, and in the months to come, you'll probably hear more about it than you care to.  We don't know if it's a good investment or a bad one, whether it's a home we can fill with love and warmth or a pit that will suck our money, our time and ultimately our will to live.  We don't know whether a giant tree will blow down on the roof in the next storm, either (and there are some whoppers on the property).  But we move in on Wednesday, and your prayers will be gratefully appreciated.

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