When I step down from leading the church here in Chelmsford, the likelihood is that my successor will need to be provided with a manse. Although some Baptist ministers own their own home, the vast majority do not.
In the past our church had a manse for its senior minister. But at the time when Caroline and I were able to purchase our own property and when the church was under considerable financial pressure to fund the re-development of its premises, that manse was sold.
Now a new manse may need to be found. Clearly I will not be involved in any decision-making relating to a possible new manse – that is the responsibility of the deacons and of the church in general. However, I did idly speculate on what kind of property the church would need to find.
I discovered that in 1998 the Church Commissioners published some guidelines for new Anglican ‘parsonages’. Their recommendations make for interesting reading. The parsonage should normally have a total floor area of between 181 and 190 square metres. It should include a dedicated study, with a floor area of not less than 18 square metres. The rest of the accommodation should allow for two family rooms (excluding kitchen) and sleeping space for an occasional maximum of seven people in four rooms. One of the family rooms should be sufficiently large to allow clergy to offer hospitality to their parishioners – ideally between 20 and 22 metres. The report goes on to state that ‘The needs of clergy spouses following their own careers (often working from home with the aid of modern communication systems) should be taken into account, as should the needs of older children and elderly relatives living with the family. Individual, self-contained rooms rather than open planned areas are preferred, since many visitors may be comparative strangers and the activities of different family members are more easily accommodated in this way’. In addition, it is recommended that a garage should be provided along with parking space for three cars.
As far as I am aware, there are no specific guidelines for Baptist manses. I did, however, ask a Baptist minister friend what kind of accommodation he felt a church should provide for a senior minister of a larger Baptist church. He replied: ‘A detached house, with four bedrooms, two reception rooms and a study’. Furthermore, he felt strongly that the fact a church might provide a dedicated office for the senior minister on church premises, would not negate the need for a study at home.
Some church members might feel that the provision of a manse of this size might be generous. After all, many church members live in smaller homes. But the reality is that even ministers with church offices, still work from home. In my own case, I have a large room at the top of the house (called ‘the library’) from where I can gain immediate access through the medium of VPN to my church computer as also to my church e-mails. Although I tend not to see people at home, there are times when people come to see me at home, sometimes for confidential reasons. All kinds of meetings take place in the home, and we use our home regularly for large-scale hospitality.
The fact is that for most ministers the ‘manse’ is a key part of the church’s provision for them. Surprising as it may seem to church members, many a minister has turned down a call simply on the grounds of inadequate manse provision. It therefore really does pay a church to ensure that they offer acceptable accommodation.