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 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.
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.