First woman priest in charge at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

Madre Annie Brown Etheredge relaxes in her New Iberia home. Of New Iberia, she says, ‘There is no place like this on earth.’

Following the retirement of the Rev. Matt Woolett, Madre Annie Brown Etheredge accepted the call to be the Priest-in-Charge at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. Making history was not in her life plan, but she accepted becoming the first woman priest at this national historical landmark. Madre Annie is also coming home to the church that nurtured her into the person she is today.

When Annie attended LSU, she was invited by a close friend to go to church. Raised Catholic at a time when girls were not allowed to serve on the altar, Annie said “I’ve always been drawn to the church and wanted to be involved, but I never thought I could be until I went to the Episcopal church.” She went to inquirer’s classes at St. Alban’s Episcopal Student Center and asked a lot of questions. “Essentially, I have doubts and fears, and is that OK? Am I OK?”

Annie’s first career was in communications making television commercials. As her job became more and more stressful, she would dream of being an Episcopal priest. In Little Rock, she attended a church in which the vicar was a woman. This was Annie’s first encounter with a female priest. She thought to herself (and kept it to herself for a long time), “I could do that!”

In 1996, Annie and her first husband moved back to New Iberia and became members of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, sending their daughter to Epiphany Day School. Annie became friends with the rector, Mike Adams. Together they planned and started the church’s outreach mission, Solomon House. Annie became the first director. She has remained involved as a volunteer and board member.

The “dream job” kept nagging at her, though, so she sought out discernment from the Bishop of the Western Episcopal Diocese who required her to meet with a committee at Epiphany. When the committee asked why she wanted to become a priest, she answered in sobs. Annie recalls, “I thought that’s the end of that.” The next day she received a phone call, “The committee thinks you are called. They had no idea how passionate you are.” Annie credits the Holy Spirit.

In September of 2001, Annie left for Seabury Seminary in Chicago. In the wake of 9/11, it was a scary time to be so far away, so she transferred to Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. After seminary, her ministry took her to regional churches, Ascension and St. Barnabas in Lafayette, chaplaincy at Episcopal School of Acadiana then to Epiphany in Opelousas.

“All along the way, there was this process of I doubt, God proves; I doubt, God proves.”

Being a woman in a typically male role, Annie has met challenges. Once in a meeting, she was accused of naively being “a bleeding heart.” She responded with conviction that her beliefs are grounded, “I know exactly why I believe the way I do. Do I have a bleeding heart? You betcha! And it’s not naivete that makes me feel this way—it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Madre Annie is married to Jim Etheredge, a retired UL computer science professor, and together they share 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren. With Jim’s support, Annie welcomes this new phase in her ministry, coming home to a place of history, faith, and love. She again has her doubts, but she knows that’s the way the Holy Spirit is alive and working through her. “Worry does nothing for anyone but waste time and energy.” Annie has learned through many life experiences that her faith is a gift that not everyone has. She is grateful for the gift and looks forward to sharing it with others.

MARGARET SIMON is an elementary teacher of gifted students in Iberia Parish. She writes a blog regularly at reflectionsontheteche.com.

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