Getting your hous-ing in order

Group 236

by John Handley

1501housingRendering unto Caesar* on behalf of our congregations makes January a busy time for financial professionals and volunteers. It is time for year-end accounting for last year as well as preparation for the new year. As synod treasurer, I field questions about congregation finances all year long, but the volume of queries is always up right about now.

One of the most common topics for questions concerns housing allowances for clergy and the appropriate tax treatments of the various parts of clergy compensation. The ELCA recently published a document, “Five Things to Remember about the Clergy Housing Allowance” (pdf file), with a few key points for congregations to keep in mind as they get off to a start with the 2015 tax year.

  • One key point to remember in January is that a pastor’s housing allowance must be approved by the congregation before it is paid to the pastor.
  • Also, the approval must be recorded in writing.

In the synod office, we approve housing allowances as part of our first executive committee meeting of the year, in part because that meeting happens before our first payroll of the year.

NOTE: The tip sheet Handley refers to is found in the January 2015 issue of “Administration Matters,” a bimonthly e-newsletter for ELCA congregational and synodical leaders. “Administration Matters” addresses common, practical issues including finance, governance, risk management, tax, legal concerns and topics of interest about day to day operations and management in church settings. Subscribe to or just check it out from

* This expression is rooted in Biblical passages like Mark 12:17.