Announcing Mississippi’s New Episcopal Leader


By Jasmine Haynes, Communications Specialist
Please join with the Mississippi Delegation in welcoming Bishop Sharma Lewis as the next episcopal leader of the Mississippi Area. Bishop Lewis’ tenure will begin January 1, 2023.
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis currently serves as the resident bishop of the Richmond Episcopal area, and became the first African-American woman to be elected and consecrated to the office of bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church in 2016.

Bishop Sharma Lewis
“I feel overjoyed, I am excited to work with you all. I’m ready to love on y’all and for y’all to love on me,” said Lewis with great elation. “I’m ready to listen because you have to come in listening and I’m ready to just be your bishop.”
Lewis is not only excited about her new assignment, but also about her future ministry with the conference.
“The Methodist Church has been inundated with disaffiliations and COVID, Boy Scouts—and I want to bring folks back to the mission of the Methodist Church and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world so I’m excited about teaching, preaching, telling folks about Jesus and winning folks to Christ because I still believe people need Jesus,” shared Lewis.
Additionally, Lewis shared that she wanted to make her mentor and friend, Bishop Swanson, and Mrs. Swanson proud as the conference leadership transitions from Bishop Swanson’s tenure to hers. Swanson was Lewis’ pastor when she was 13 and she expressed that she was honored and humbled to follow him.
Prior to her episcopal assignment, she held a distinguished record of service in the North Georgia Conference including her appointment as district superintendent of the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District in 2010. In 2007, Bishop Lewis’ remarkable pastoral leadership at Wesley Chapel, a three-year tenure, led to over 600 new and restored members and worship attendance doubled. While there, her visibility as a strong spiritual and pastoral leader propelled her into numerous leadership roles in the local community, including Hands-on Henry County and Many Hearts, Many Hands McDonough. Her ministry there culminated as she received the Harry Denman Award for Evangelism in 2010 as well as the G. Ross Freeman Leadership Award. Prior to these roles, Bishop Lewis was appointed in 1999 as the associate, and subsequently, senior associate pastor of the 8,000-member Ben Hill United Methodist Church in Atlanta and as senior pastor of the Powers Ferry UMC, a cross-racial assignment in Marietta, Ga.
Rev. Mattie Gipson, Bishop Sharma Lewis and Tim Crisler during episcopal assignment announcements. 

Retired district superintendent, Rev. Mattie Gipson, is one of two Mississippi representatives on the episcopacy committee who is responsible for Lewis’ assignment to Mississippi and wanted the conference to know that the process was very intentional.

“It was a lot of prayer, and we didn’t do this light-heartedly,” said Gipson. “We looked at all the bishops and as we prayed and discerned, we felt that her spirit and her gifts would be what Mississippi needs to keep us going forward.”
Bishop Lewis has offered those gifts to The United Methodist Church in a variety of ways. She is currently the vice and personnel chair of the Gammon Theological Seminary Board of Trustees. She is a member of the Black Clergywomen and Black Methodist for Church Renewal (BMCR) of The United Methodist Church. Lewis has also been appointed as the liaison to the Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force (IASETF), a task force of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She serves on the board of governors for Wesley Theological Seminary and as ex-officio of the five United Methodist colleges in the Virginia Conference. She is also a member of the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) Committee on Coordination and Accountability (CCA) and a member of the Study Commission Ministry (GBHEM). The North Georgia Annual Conference honored Bishop Lewis by electing her as the first African American female to lead the delegation to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences. In 2015, she was once again voted to lead the delegation to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Now, Lewis becomes another first, but this time in the Mississippi Conference.
Bishop Sharma Lewis, Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., Mrs. Delphine Swanson, Mississippi delegation and cabinet members and other Mississippians who attended the 2022 SEJ Conference take a quick picture outside of the chapel at Lake Junaluska.
“She’s a great fit for our conference and for her to be the first African American female to become Mississippi’s bishop, and for me to have a small part to play in bringing her to Mississippi—that’s just a blessing,” said Tim Crisler, Mississippi lay delegate and representative on the episcopacy committee. “It is a historic moment for us as a conference. I am proud we had the opportunity to bring such a phenomenal, dynamic, charismatic, energetic leader to Mississippi.”
Bishop Lewis was born and raised in Statesboro, Ga. in a loving Methodist family where individuals have answered God’s call to serve the church and to minister to God’s people. A graduate of 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), Bishop Lewis worked as a research biologist and chemist prior to surrendering to God’s call upon her life. She has led mission experiences to Jamaica, Kenya and the Philippines.
Bishop Lewis is the recipient of the Wesleyan Theological Society Award and the Scouting Silver Torch Award. She is the recipient of the 2014 Gammon Theological Seminary Distinguished Alumna and Trailblazer Award given by The National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc., Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter. Bishop Lewis is a member of the Atlanta Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She has received the Delta Sigma Theta Pinnacle and Torch Award. She is the author of Journey to Transformation, (2020, 2021 and 2022 Lenten Study).

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