A former Statesboro resident made history by being elected as the first African-American woman in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Sharma Lewis “served with distinction at the North Georgia Annual Conference and has great character, administrative ability and is a passionate preacher,” said the Rev. Jimmy Cason, pastor of Statesboro First United Methodist Church.
“I have known her family for a long time, and she has made history,” he said Friday.
Lewis was elected on the first ballot at the jurisdiction’s quadrennial meeting in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.
Neither she nor her family was immediately available for comment Friday. Cason said the family was “likely still celebrating” the honor.
In an article posted on www.UMC.org, Lewis said: "I was called by God and I made myself available, not just to a position, but to follow God's will. I am excited, and I am really humbled. At 52 years old, I am excited that my next phase of life will be as an episcopal leader. I am humbled to the fact that this is historic."
Lewis was the first bishop elected by the 376 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, from the nine states that form the Southeastern Jurisdiction, according to the report.
Her four-year term of service begins Sept. 1.
“This is no surprise,” Cason said. “Most people (affiliated with the church) felt she was going to be elected.”
Currently serving as district superintendent of the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District, Lewis is a native of Statesboro in the South Georgia Conference and a lifelong United Methodist. Cason said she will be appointed to the Virginia Conference in Richmond.
Lewis, daughter of Statesboro’s Alethia Lewis, former NAACP president and state treasurer, graduated from Mercer University and the University of West Georgia with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology.
She worked as a biologist in the academic and corporate sectors and later entered Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, where she earned a Master of Divinity with honors.
"I have an evangelistic heart, I just feel that people need Jesus. And I hope that's what I bring to the Council of Bishops," Lewis said in the interview with UMC.org. "My ministry has been blessed."
Before being appointed district superintendent, Lewis served at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in McDonough, Powers Ferry United Methodist Church in Marietta and Ben Hill United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
She was the first female senior pastor and first African-American pastor of Powers Ferry UMC, as well as the first woman to serve as senior minister of Wesley Chapel UMC and the first woman to serve as district superintendent in the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District, according to the report.
She also received the G. Ross Freeman Leadership Award, given by the United Methodist Men, and the 2010 Harry Denman Evangelism Award. She has served on numerous committees, boards and task forces representing the United Methodist Church, including as leader of the 2012 and 2016 North Georgia clergy delegations to the General and Jurisdictional conferences.
A consecration service for Lewis and four other new bishops was held Friday in Lake Junaluska.