minster's manse with dog in window

Minister and manse.

Whenever a Presbyterian minister moves to a church part of their call is that the manse comes with the job.

The last minister lived here for about 30 years. 

I am here nearly six years.

elegant hall with stairs and stained glass door

In the Presbyterian tradition a minister applies for a congregation and goes through an interview process and if you’re called you’ll go.

Ministers don’t get moved around unless we choose to. There’s no reason why I won’t finish my ministry here if that’s what I’m able to do.  

Before I moved here the congregation did a massive renovation.

They put in new heating, new kitchen, new bathroom new everything. They really brought it up-to-date but kept as much of the old character of the house.

It is beautiful. 

I asked for the wooden floor in the hall and in the dining room and sitting room. And I chose the carpet for the stairs – but that’s it. 

stained glass window in door with letterbox

When I first saw the house I loved the stained glass windows at the front.

So even though it was still being plastered and the floorboards were all ripped up I did think it would be OK. It felt really big.

But now that I live in it I don’t consider it too big. 

They chose all the paint colours, but to be honest it would be my choice. I like quite plain and calming colours.

They put in the new kitchen, a bathroom – so I didn’t choose any of those. But like I say, having always lived in a manse I am used to living with whatever you get. And it’s been lovely.

B & W image of vintage mahogany fireplace

I love that it still has all the original fireplaces…. some of the original cornices  and  all the stained glass windows.

They have retained the character and it’s been very sensitively done

I could put up different curtain rails or pictures or things like that, but I wouldn’t be able to knock down a wall. I can do cosmetic things but anything else would have to go to the congregation.

Whenever I was assistant minister I didn’t have a house provided, so I rented. 

 When I became an associate minister  I didn’t have to live in  the house they provided because it wasn’t part of the call. At that point I chose to buy somewhere. When I went to my first church that was the first time that I actually had a manse provided and live in the manse as sole  pastor.

Then I came to live here. 

My father was a Presbyterian minister.

We were fortunate in that the first house we lived in was  a very old manse, well over 100 years old. But then it got so bad that they demolished it and built a new manse.  

Our manse was right beside the church.

People would come up to house for the keys… and so if the heating wasn’t on and it was very obvious that was where the minister lived. It’s not quite so obvious here.

When I’m here I always feel on call. So even if it was a day that I was officially off, when I’m in this house I still feel on call.

wooden kitchen table and chairs

People know where I am and I’m happy for people within the congregation to come to my home. Maybe in the past people would have gone to the church to meet the minister.

I use the whole house in different ways  with different people.

I meet them in the sitting room, the front room or for a cup of coffee in the kitchen.

But my study is the centre of it all: I am in it every day.

The ministry is very different from twenty years ago. With smartphones you’re sort of expected to reply and respond immediately. That’s why I would be in the study a lot.

stained glass window and view into bedroom

We have between 3-400 families in the congregation.

It’s quite a big congregation and there would be a lot of people who are at home, or in nursing homes. As a church we are very active in the community with the Scouts and Guides, which are very well thought of in the area.

On Wednesday nights we have free pizzas for everybody and Easter egg hunts open to everyone in the area.

We will try to be a real present witness so that people know – and people do know – St. John’s as the ‘Pizza Church’. Or, that’s where they go to the Scouts.

It’s very important to us that we are seen as part of the community.  

vintage mahogany fireplace and bookcase

Although there’s just me living here, and Alfie the dog, I seem to be able to use every single bit of the house.

People say: “do you not feel really lonely in that big house…. you must have some rooms closed off”. I’m in every room of the house every day at some point. 

I am somebody who always has to have a little nest.

In places I stayed in as a student  I would go out and get  colourful cushions and scented candles. That was very important to me, and it still would be, even in a big house.

Everything here is totally usable, touchable, breakable…. and that’s fine.

I  don’t want it to be a place where Alfie can’t get up on the chair. I don’t want to be precious about it.

I have to feel ‘at home’.

It took a bit of time to furnish it.

My last house was a 1970s bungalow and a lot of stuff just didn’t look right.

Also, I have more rooms here. 

mahogany dining suite and vintage mahogany fireplace

If I have business meetings then we would meet there. It’s just a really nice room. 

What I had as the dining room suite in my last manse I now have in the kitchen. It just didn’t look right with the mahogany fireplace.

I ended up getting a dining room suite that works with the house. It just seems to fit.  I have people for dinner…. but usually I’m at the kitchen table.

B&W view of lower landing

My father had a heart attack, maybe 10 years  before he was due to retire, and it was sort of a wake-up call.

If anything happened to daddy we would be homeless.

Mummy and he bought a house… when he must have been about 60. The hassle they had getting a mortgage was awful.  

They managed it, they got it, but it made me think: I don’t I want to be in that situation.  

So, when I had the option I decided I’d buy something to get on the property ladder.

So I have a house that is mine –  or it will be once the mortgage is paid off. It’s just a little semi-detached. 

 If I got ill or wasn’t able to continue I would be homeless. Now at least I have that.  You have to sort yourself out.   

Having lived here, when I go there, it’s like I’m going to a caravan!

But, it’s very strange as soon as I come in the door I immediately feel relaxed because there’s no phone and nobody knows where it is.  It’s my bolthole

religious cars in window

A lot of ministers are now going into the ministry in their 30’s so they already had a  career and  a home.

For me, having seen the agonies my parents went through, it was certainly something that I had to do – and I’m glad I did it.

And I do feel relaxed when I’m there.

stained glass panel in front door

This house is beautiful it really is. I would never, ever be able to afford something like this.

I love the house and I love the location. It’s close to church and when I take Alfie out for walks I meet loads of people.

They maybe don’t go to my church but they know me and Alfie.. you just meet people.

For me, it’s a combination of what the house looks like and also where it is.  

4 safari animal photos  on wall

Home for me is: security, safety and belonging.

I suppose it’s that the home’s ‘belongings’ belong to me.

So when I look around I know where the photographs were taken…  and I bought that on that holiday…. I remember having to save up to buy that.

It’s almost like a ‘living history’ of where I’ve come from – to where I am.

Everything here has been gathered up over a long, long, time which keeps me connected to people who have been part of my life.

Home doesn’t have to be the most ‘up-to-date’ or following the trends.

It doesn’t even have to be spotlessly clean. It just has to be comfortable, secure and that I feel it’s mine – even though it’s not mine. 

 kitchen with black granite works surfaces cooker and sink

I am up quite early around about 6:30am, Alfie and I go out for a walk and then we come in get breakfast.

It is nice to sit at the kitchen table.

In the summer it’s lovely with the sun coming in and because of the trees there’s lots of birdsong. 

Usually I would be out in the mornings to do my visits. But on the mornings that I think this is the day for the sermon, I’m into the study. 

desk with laptop and lamp by window

When I was starting out  I used to practise my sermon constantly.

Not now. Because I don’t have the time.

But I would go over it on a Sunday morning just to make sure.  Usually I’ll have written it on a Wednesday or Thursday  and I will look over it again just to make sure I don’t have to change anything. 

At the start I used to be terrified at preaching and I used to go down to my father’s  church and practise from the pulpit.  

I don’t do that anymore.

You do get into the way of it, but I think it comes with experience and age that you become confident in your own style.

You can’t teach anyone that, you just have to develop that yourself.

Everyone has a different rhythm of speech and again, it’s about the confidence to be more natural, rather than going into your ‘ministers voice’.  

There are not many female ministers.

grey sofa with dog cushion

This sofa was bought when I first came here. 

 I wasn’t sure about Alfie being up on it and that very day he jumped up and left a great big wet paw print. And I said: ‘well that’s it. It’s done now’.

It’s too much energy being precious about it. You just have to let It be.  

Alfie has made everywhere his own.

There’s nowhere that’s out of bounds for him.

That keeps me chilled, because you can get very uptight with the work and sometimes it’s good to have that grounding.

Everyone remembers this house being cold.  

The previous minister found it too expensive to heat with the oil so he always kept the fires going.  

I love a coal fire, but it’s a lot of work.  

I’m fortunate in that I have good central heating – because I hate being cold.

It’s good for the house because it’s not getting damp. I know I have to pass it on to the next minister so I have to look after it.  

The house is not mine, I’m only looking after it for the next person. 

oval brass mirror reflecting stained glass in door

That was my granny’s  mirror. It didn’t work in the other house but it works well here.

I love the fact that I’m living in a house that has a history that goes beyond me; and it’s happy history.

I just have a feeling when I’m in this home that it’s been well loved.  It’s a very  easy house to live in.  

Sometimes I wonder who used to live in this room and did they use that fireplace?

I love the fact that the church could have chosen to knock it down and build a new one, and probably it would have been cheaper, but I’m so glad that they didn’t.

You just don’t get that same feeling with a new house

wooden detail house of female minister

Interview with Rev. Anne Tolland, St John’s Newtownbreda

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

You may also like...


  1. Nuala you have a really lovely style of sharing information.I feel like you are talking to me .I really enjoyed this blog .well done and I look forward to the next blog

  2. Thank you Anne.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.