She's the little sister to three older sisters and big sister to one brother. To fill their shoes would be huge task, but Sharma Lewis had her own footwear and walked her own path to make history when she was elected by the North Georgia Conference as the first African-American female to lead the delegation to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. In 2015, she was again voted to lead the delegation to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Then, in July 2016, Lewis made history again to become Bishop Sharma Lewis, the first African-American woman elected to that position for the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.
Her accomplishments read like that of a centenarian, but don't be misled by the extent of experience described in the dossier that details her dedication to the United Methodist Church ministry. She's simply led a highly productive life. As graduate of Statesboro High School (1981), Mercer University (B.S., Biology, 1985), the University of West Georgia (M.S., Biology, 1988) and Gammon Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center (M.Div., 1999), Lewis was the ideal student and went on to work as a chemist before obeying her call to the ministry.
"I'm the 14th pastor in my family. While going through a phase of prayer after being put on the wait list for medical school, my (late) Aunt Essie C. Simmons (who was also a pastor) challenged me to seek my purpose. She told me I had a call on my life. Another major influence was James Swanson Sr. who pastored Brannen Chapel United Methodist Church when I was 13. He is now bishop of the Mississippi Conference. Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale who is not United Methodist, 'poured into me' during a mentor group experience. She also continues to inspire me.
"My mission is that of the United Methodist Church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ, share the love of Jesus Christ, share the gospel message and spread the word that Jesus is the only way. My career in ministry has been very evangelistic. People need Christ."
That compassionate, hands-on approach has earned Lewis accolades from multitudes. She has served as associate and senior associate pastor of Ben Hill United Methodist in Atlanta, senior pastor of the Powers Ferry United Methodist Church in Marietta, and senior pastor of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in McDonough, Georgia.
Lewis' service to church and community is extensive, some of which includes: member of the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) Committee on Coordination and Accountability (CCA) and a member of the (SEJ) Intentional Growth Center (IGC); board member of the Wesley Woods Foundation; SEJ Committee on the Episcopacy; and cabinet representative for United Methodist Women and the Committee for Equitable Compensation. Lewis also serves as board member and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Evangelism for the World Methodist Council (WCC) of the United Methodist Church, and is a member of the Black Clergywomen and Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) of the United Methodist Church. Lewis has also been appointed as liaison to the Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force (IASETF). She also serves on the Board of Governors for Wesley Theological Seminary and as ex-officio of the six United Methodist colleges in the Virginia Conference.
"Home generates the sweetest memories. Brannen Chapel United Methodist Church was a huge part of my life. I became a very active youth and remember walking up the street from our family store to church," she said.
She wasn't the only one making pilgrimages to the family store. Lewis Mart and Carousel Drive-in, which opened in 1967, is now a historic landmark on Martin Luther King Drive and was owned by Lewis' father, the late Charlie Lewis Sr. He and Lewis' mother, Alethia Lewis, were members of several community organizations.
Lewis reminisces, "Because my parents were black leaders and entrepreneurs, they were in a position to help those who were in trouble with the law. Our store brings memories of a place where people would come to air their grievances about injustices they'd experienced. My parents were advocates for our community. They saved and sacrificed to put the interest of others before their own."
Lewis admits that she and her younger brother, Charlie Jr., reaped the benefits of integration in Bulloch County Schools. She credits her older siblings for being instrumental in the assimilation of SHS, Marvin Pittman and Julia P. Bryant. They are: Le'Ontyne Buggs, Charlene Lewis, Wanda Hendrix (deceased) and Reta Jo Lewis, all living inMaryland, Washington, D.C. or New York.
Lewis admits to being a movie buff and praises the significance of Black History Month and its relevance to historical finds like "Hidden Figures," the recently released movie and untold story of African-American NASA mathematicians who were critical to the early United States space program.
"After I saw the movie, I posted on Facebook, ‘Must See! Unknown History!' Let's face it, without Katherine Johnson, there would be no astronaut John Glenn."
Spoken like the evangelist that she is, Lewis continues, "We assume we know people because of our preconceived notions about their culture. We must start having conversations and praying for understanding. God calls us to be the specific embodiment of Jesus Christ. We are the highest calling. We must learn to love and respect one another. No one stops long enough to ask, ‘Who are you?'"