In the broadest sense, a vicarage is normally considered to be the residence that is set aside by a local parish to serve as the housing for the vicar assigned to the parish. Sometimes referred to as a parsonage, the vicarage offers the local ecclesiastical minister a home while in the service of the local congregation. Depending on the size of the local congregation and the structure of the religious denomination, it is possible that two or more vicars may be assigned to the local area and share residence at a common vicarage.
In the Christian tradition, the concept of a vicarage can be traced back to New Testament counsel for the members of the church to provide for the care of ministers. Many churches see the provision of a vicarage or parsonage as freeing local ministers from the need to be concerned about day to day matters such as securing food, clothing, and shelter. From this perspective, providing housing makes it possible for local ministers to focus on the spiritual and material needs of the local church congregation without the distraction of laboring at any type of work other than providing ministry to the members of the flock and to the wider community.
While a vicarage is sometimes equipped to be one of the more impressive dwellings in the local community, it is far more often the case that the vicarage reflects the overall financial condition of the congregation. That is, the vicarage will be constructed along the same lines as other family dwellings in the area, tending to blend in rather than stand out in comparison to the homes owned by most of the congregants. The vicarage is often cared for by people who are charged with the responsibility of the church ground proper, and is usually located in close proximity to the church property, if not constructed adjacent to the local church.
In keeping with the ministerial calling of the vicar, the typical vicarage will normally include a study or office where the vicar can offer counseling or otherwise interact with persons who wish to visit the vicar for spiritual advice or to discuss an issue of personal or local importance. The inclusion of a study also often provides the vicar with a quiet place to prepare sermons or contemplate other matters related to study, ministry, or the watchcare of the local flock.
Some Christian traditions include the concept of a vicariate, which can be loosely defined as properties owned and managed by the church in a designated geographic area. While the local vicarage may be included as part of a vicariate, the two terms are not interchangeable.