Sitting waiting for the estate agent, the thought occurs as to whether Jesus intended that the Local Property Tax be a matter of concern for those who cared for his flock. Is there some obscure New Testament text, buried deep within the Gospels perhaps, where it says that it is essential to ministry that one live in a large detached house? I mean, is there any evidence that Saint Peter had four reception rooms or en suite facilities?
To suggest that rectories, parochial houses and manses might go the way of Garda barracks, surgeries in doctors’ homes, and schoolmasters’ houses is still heresy to many ears, but, possibly for the first time in Irish history, churches must now pay tax on the residential accommodation they provide. For some churches, carrying large portfolios of substantial property, this might prompt a review of the purpose of property ownership.
There is nothing to suggest owning large numbers of houses does anything to assist the mission of the church, in fact, a moment’s thought as to where in the world the church is growing would suggest property ownership is a feature of churches that are in decline.
Perhaps the property question is secondary to the question of the purpose of having a clergyman in residence.
Is he there, on the spot, to provide emergency pastoral cover? If that is the case, then shouldn’t all the clergy of the district be living close to the local hospital, for few people die at home these days.
Is he there as some sort of talisman, a charm to ward off malevolent spirits? Is his presence enough to somehow ensure people all is right with the world? If that is the case, then someone sitting inside and reading books all day would suffice, yet anyone familiar with parish life knows what the opinion is of clergy who do not venture out.
Is he there to perform all those parochial tasks for which no-one else is available? In personal experience, these have included checking the church oil tank, gathering together the fire extinguishers for their annual service, putting out the church hall bins, reading the electricity meters, and numerous other tasks – after all, wasn’t I the one that was paid?
But, if he is not there for those things, if his role is to be a pastor and teacher, then why the fixation with property? Why spend scarce parish resources on large houses in which the clergy cannot afford to live? For a clergyman to work hard in a parish does not require that he live in a large house, in fact, he is might be happier in a small place of his own, and the cost to the parish a great deal less.
The estate agent completed his inspection, his valuation will determine the level of Local Property Tax payable. As he left, he joked he would put up the ‘For Sale’ sign in a couple of days. To gauge the reaction in the parish, it was almost tempting to suggest that he do so.
(And the picture is my wife’s residence, not mine).