What is a Rectory?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A rectory is a residence maintained for the use of a parish priest. Traditionally, priests have been reassigned frequently to new churches in many Christian denominations, and the Church maintains residences for their use as a job benefit. Otherwise, a priest would be forced to find a new residence with each change of job, and since priests sometimes entertain guests and receive members of the congregation at home, they would be obliged to look for a residence suitable for entertaining, which could be prohibitively costly.

A priest's residence is referred to as a rectory.
A priest's residence is referred to as a rectory.

A variety of terms are used to describe a rectory, depending on the denomination. Parsonage, manse, vicarage, and presbytery are all forms of the rectory, for example. A typical rectory is large enough to accommodate a religious officiant and his or her family, in denominations where priests are permitted to marry. Most rectories also include guest rooms for visiting Church officials, along with a large drawing room for entertaining.

Parsonage, manse, vicarage and presbytery are all forms of a rectory, which houses a parish priest.
Parsonage, manse, vicarage and presbytery are all forms of a rectory, which houses a parish priest.

Classically, a rectory is situated close to the Church. This is convenient for the resident, of course, since it makes the commute to work short, and it ensures that the priest is available any time a member of the congregation might require religious assistance. This closeness of the rectory also reflects the administrative nature of the building; many priests use their rectories as offices, and historically the rectory was the headquarters for managing the glebe land owned by the Church.

Rectories are still widely used around the world today to house priests and other religious officials. The rectory is maintained by the congregation, through tithing and grants of funds from the Church. Because the rectory officially belongs to the Church, not the resident, he or she may need to apply to the Church Board to make major changes and for assistance with repairs and replacements of damaged appliances and furniture.

Some churches have sold their rectories, because they are no longer needed or because the church is short on funds. Many private residences in old rectories retain the rectory name, and rectories have also been used as sites to establish inns, restaurants, and other commercial businesses. Some people enjoy living in rectories because they are often at the center of community life, since churches are typically in the middle of town, and because the area around a rectory tends to be relatively quiet. Many people also regard rectories as buildings with historic value, and some communities use abandoned rectories to host museums or community offices.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@ElizaBennett - Love your screen name! I hope you are living happily ever after with your own Mr. Darcy.

I have a nice annotated edition of the novels--birthday present from my husband--that explains some of those things one always wondered about (like how a phaeton is different from a barouche).

Apparently, in the old Church of England, people were obligated to pay tithes to support their minister. Getting a permanent, supported post like that was called getting a "living." The only difference between a vicarage and a rectory, by definition, had something to do with the precise nature of the living and how the guy was supported.

A curate, on the other hand, was a clergyman with no living of his own who was paid for a wealthier minister to do his preaching for him. This would be the cause with a minister who had multiple livings and couldn't physically be at all of them; he would hire a curate to help him out. I think the Brontes' father was a curate and Jane Austen's father was a vicar, though obviously not a terribly wealthy one.


The article defines rectory quite nicely; I get that today, a rectory is just a place where a minister lives, basically. But I'm a big Bronte and Jane Austen fan (surprise, surprise) and the books talk about rectors, vicars, and curates. Obviously, that's in the Church of England, nineteenth century. At that time, were they all the same thing? What's the difference?

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