Southeastern elects first African-American woman as bishop

In a historic election, the Rev. Sharma Lewis of the North Georgia Annual Conference was been elected bishop by the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.
She was elected on the first ballot at the jurisdiction's quadrennial meeting at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

Lewis is the first African-American woman elected bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
 
"I was called by God and I made myself available, not just to a position, but to follow God's will," said Lewis. "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. Later in the week, the Southeastern Jurisdiction will announce the assignment of bishops for the next four years. Her four-year term of service begins Sept. 1.

Lewis is the first African-American woman elected as a bishop in the denomination since 2000. The first ever African-American female bishop in The United Methodist Church, Bishop Leontine Kelly, was from the Virginia Conference but was elected in 1984 by the church's Western Jurisdiction.

Addressing the conference, Lewis named Kelly, along with each of the U.S. African-American female bishops elected by The United Methodist Church and each of the women elected bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

"The reason I'm calling the roll is because I know that those women broke the ceiling for me to stand here today," she said.

Currently serving as district superintendent of the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District, Lewis is a native of Statesboro in the South Georgia Conference and a life-long United Methodist.

She is a graduate of Mercer University and the University of West Georgia, with bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, and worked as a biologist in the academic and corporate sectors. After answering the call to ministry, she entered Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, where she earned the 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," said Lewis.

"My ministry has been blessed," she said, explaining that she has had the opportunity to serve at large churches, small churches, on the cabinet, and on a multi-staff.

Before being appointed district superintendent, Rev. 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.

Sybil Davidson, conference communicator, NG Conference

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Fund pays for bishops' salaries, office and travel expenses, and pension and health-benefit coverage. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Episcopal Fund apportionment at 100 percent.