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Church Politics

Pastor and Would-Be Politician Enjoys Plush Parsonage

Phil Rizzo is a successful real estate developer, the pastor of a small church, and a candidate for governor in New Jersey. But what’s getting attention is his plush parsonage, which is growing plusher by the day.

In 2015, Rizzo and his wife paid $1.55 million for a five-bedroom, seven-bath home on 6 acres of land.

Two years later they sold the house for $1.65 million to City Baptist Church, a small, independent church with locations in Hoboken and North Bergen. But the Rizzo’s continue to live in the house.

The church, which Rizzo founded after converting to Christianity in 2009 is so small that Rizzo is one of only two staff members listed as working there. It’s not clear where the church got the money for the house. A 2017 article about the church’s fifth anniversary said it had 60 members

While owned by the church, the 6,725-square-foot house has undergone extensive renovations, and was once listed for sale at a price of $2.65 million. The house is not currently for sale, but Zillow says it is currently worth $2.2 million.

Three-dozen photos in the Zillow listing highlight the home’s heated pool, pond, outbuildings, three fireplaces, Viking stove, SubZero refrigerators, and game room and gym.

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“Builder is putting final touches on this stunning 5 bedroom home,” says the listing.

Seth Essendrop, who says he is a church member, the church’s treasurer, and it’s second largest donor after Rizzo, wrote to the Hudson Reporter to applaud the arrangement.

“As a member of seven years, I can confidently attest to the fact that the church significantly underpays pastor for his services, and that would still be the case had he made money off the sale of his house,” he wrote. “The fact is, he lost, or rather donated money in that deal…Though we are not able to pay him what he is worth, we are glad to afford him the benefit of living in a parsonage.

“So yes, Philip Rizzo is a successful businessman with a phenomenal house, a pastor who has poured his heart and soul into helping people, and, like all patriotic Americans, is someone who prefers to throw as little of his money in the trash as is legally permissible.”

Congress established the clergy housing allowance in 1921 to help small churches that couldn’t provide full-time salaries to ministers but could provide housing. The law was amended in 1954, allowing clergy to set aside part of their compensation for tax exempt housing expenses.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation unsuccessfully fought the U.S. Treasury Department’s clergy housing exclusion in 2019, claiming the policy violates the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religion clauses of the Constitution. 

According to the Trinity Foundation, Rizzo’s parsonage pales in comparison to the 18,000-square-foot home of televangelist Kenneth Copeland, which is worth $11 million

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.