Criticizing Conspicuous Clerical Consumption

Should clergy live according to their means, just like the rest of us? Or do they have a special responsibility to live more simply, and to give more away? David Briggs of Religion News Service reports:

As the new bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the Northeastern Ohio Synod, Eaton wants a house closer to her new office and to the church where her husband, the Rev. Conrad Selnick, serves as pastor.

And they want a home that makes the right impression for someone whose role is considered, in theological terms, as a servant of servants. Her lifestyle as the spiritual leader of a region that includes Cleveland, America’s poorest big city, according to the Census Bureau, is part of the church’s witness to the world, she said.

So Eaton doesn’t expect to buy anything too lavish. She said her new house may not even be as big as her current four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bath home, valued at $140,000.

“I hope we don’t get into conspicuous consumption,” she said.

For clergy, choosing a residence can be an inexact balancing act between biblical and theological emphases on a simple lifestyle on the one hand and personal and practical considerations on the other.

“It doesn’t do anyone any good to live in a shack,” Eaton noted.

Cleveland’s Catholic bishop, Richard Lennon, lives with four priests in a downtown rectory.

Episcopal Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. owns a suburban home on 2.4 acres that he bought for $1.66 million in 2004.

Lennon said he tries to follow church teachings that encourage clerics “to set aside every appearance of vanity in their possessions.” Hollingsworth said he wants a place where he can entertain and host events for the diocese.

When Hollingsworth was elected an Episcopal bishop in 2003, he, his wife and four children were offered housing by the diocese. Hollingsworth chose instead to buy a $1.66 million home with seven bedrooms, seven full and two partial bathrooms and five fireplaces across from a park in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The bishop bought the house with what he would only describe as his “personal resources.” No church money was used, the diocese said.

“The elements that went into deciding where to live were primarily personal and had to do with finding a home for our young family that had access to schools and proximity to my office and also a place where we could offer hospitality to the diocese,” he said.

Read it all here.

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