Also known as “the manse.” I lived in three of them—church-owned housing. What a joy! No taxes to pay. No repairs. No further assorted bills. Something wrong with the furnace? Call the Building Committee. Garage doors won’t work? Call the Building Committee. Leak in the roof? Call the Building Committee. Light bulb burned out? Call the . . . no, I could do that myself. I never was a handyman, but I could surely change a light bulb. All you do is turn it clockwise. Or is it counterclockwise? Or just hold on to it and let my wife turn me.
When my family and I were comfortably ensconced in our third parsonage, the bubble burst.
One of our new consistory members was Jay Van Andel, cofounder of Amway. With his skills and abilities, I thought he would make a splendid chairman of the Finance Committee. When I asked whether he would consent to serve in that capacity, he graciously accepted. Congratulating myself on such a wise appointment, I was not quite ready for what was to come. Jay turned out to be a hands-on chairman. He took his assignment very seriously, and went to town with some revolutionary results.
For starters, he changed our philosophy of giving. Traditionally, the consistory set the yearly budget as recommended by the Finance Committee, then divided it by the number of church families so all would know what was expected. Our new finance chairman didn’t like that arrangement. He said it smacked of assessments, which some could meet—but not all. He said it was bad psychology. How much better to switch to pledges, the sum of which to determine the budget. I told him that he would never get a church full of Hollanders to change their pecuniary ways. But he did the impossible; thereby, greatly improving our spirit of stewardship.
One day he invited my wife and me to lunch in his office. I wondered what was up. After coffee, he laid it on us. He said that if he could manage it, the house we were living in would be sold. We would then be given a housing allowance. What did we think about that? We would be given the option to buy the house at a price below market value. We could take a year to make up our minds.
Jay Van Andel could read my mind. I was thinking, No more calling the Building Committee when the furnace or the garage doors didn’t work? Or if the roof leaked? Should not I, as spiritual leader, be freed of all such earthly cares so I could set my mind on higher things?
He explained. He said he had long believed our churches were not doing their pastors any favors by giving them free housing. It usually lowered salaries. And how about pastors reaching retirement age with small savings and nowhere to go? But if they owned property and “got into the system,” as Jay put it, pastors would be in a much better financial position upon emeritation. He said he wanted something better for his pastor. Characteristically, he always thought of others. In his house I had seen a whole wall filled with pictures of orphans whom he and his wife, Betty, supported.
I could see that he had our best interests at heart. I remembered a story—apocryphal, I hoped—of a pastor who retired to a small mobile home he could hardly afford. As a going-away present, his congregation gave him a large grandfather clock.
Today, more ministers live in their own houses than ever before. But not all. Local situations vary. But where pastors live in church-owned housing, consistories do well to think about their retirement days.
Meanwhile, none of us need to worry about the greater future ahead, where all our housing is already arranged.