Annie Calhoun made a significant life transition in 2008 when she decided to leave her longtime career in textbook publishing to become a reverend. She made another one earlier this year when she decided to leave her lifelong Southern California home to embark on a new adventure in the Pacific Northwest.
Calhoun is the new vicar at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Washougal, replacing Kathleen Patton, who retired in 2021.
“I’ve been wanting to move up here for 30 years, but it just never worked out,” she said. “And so finally obligations ended, things opened up, and I’m here.”
Calhoun comes to Washougal from Orange, California, where she served as a youth minister and associate rector at Trinity Episcopal Church since 2010.
“I knew my job (there) was going to end eventually,” she said. “I wanted to move here to be closer to family — my brother’s been here for 30 years, my sister has been here for 25 years, and my daughter’s been up in the Seattle area for 10 years. I talked to the Episcopal Church office up in Seattle, the headquarters for this area, and started looking at different churches. I ended up interviewing at three churches, and I thought this one seemed the best for me, and they liked me.”
At Trinity, Calhoun delivered sermons, designed and hosted youth Bible study sessions, implemented stewardship programs, conducted outreach efforts and performed administrative activities, among other duties.
“Annie has a heart for outreach, evidenced by her work with local outreach programs and Ecumenical events,” according to St. Anne’s website. “She works to build up individuals in a congregation and help them discover their gifts and strengths.”
Calhoun worked in the sales and management division for several textbook publishing companies, taught sailing at the University of California-Irvine and ran a summer boating camp for the City of Newport Beach (California) for more than 25 years before joining the ministry.
She received a Master of Divinity degree from the Claremont (California) School of Theology and an Episcopal studies degree from the Episcopal Theology School at Claremont (California) in 2013, and was ordained a deacon in 2014 and a priest in 2015.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to do it (when I was younger),” she said. “I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and they still are not, and have no intention of, ordaining women. I went to Catholic school, and back in the 1960s and early 70s, they would take the boys to one room to pray for religious calling — to become a priest — and they would take the girls to a different room to pray for a religious calling, which was to be a sister — a nun. And then it was either you became a teacher or healthcare worker. I knew then, at age 7, my thought was, ‘I’m in the wrong room.’ I wanted to be a priest. And I kept thinking (about it) until my early 20s, and then I realized, ‘Yeah, this isn’t going to happen.'”
But her life changed in 2001 when she discovered the Episcopal Church, which she says is “very familiar to the Roman Catholic Church in the liturgy or the worship, but much more progressive in its political and social-justice focus.”
“Women are ordained. It’s very inclusive, not just accepting but including and ordaining people of every stripe,” she added. “Everyone is welcomed in the community and raised up in the community, and (anyone) can be ordained if it’s a call. The things about the Catholic church that I was bumping up against were not a part of the Episcopal Church.”
And when she saw a woman lead a service for the first time, she began to think about the possibilities of making her childhood dream come true.
“I knew there were women priests, but the first time I saw one coming up the center aisle with all the bright clothing and all the clerical stuff, it was really moving,” she said. “I knew that I had found that my church, and it wasn’t very much long after that when I started thinking, ‘I wonder if that is something I could pursue?’ And I did after all these years.”
Calhoun, who delivered her first sermon at St. Anne’s on Sunday, Oct. 2, is settling into her new role and encouraged by the attendance numbers, which have been increasing lately.
“They haven’t had a (full-time) priest here (for a year), so it was really hard for it to feel like they were moving in a particular direction,” she said. “They sort of felt like they were very much in a holding pattern. And then two years before that, it was all COVID.
“In the summer, they were down to maybe 15 people attending, and now we’re up to pretty close to anywhere between like 40 and a little over 50 every Sunday. Knowing there’s this one person, and she’s going to stick around, people are feeling like, ‘OK, we’ll come back.’ It just seems like maybe what you would expect.”
Outside of the church, Calhoun enjoys spending time outdoors, walking Buddy, her 4-year-old Golden Retriever, up and down nearby trails and kayaking on Vancouver Lake
“I’m from Southern California, so everything (here) is totally different,” she said. “I lived between Disneyland and Newport Beach, so it was just city, city, city, city. And it’s beautiful at the beach. But this is so green. This whole area is just ideal. It’s the opposite of where I lived before. It’s a really beautiful town, with lots of places to walk, trees, lakes and rivers. And it definitely has a small town feel.”