Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin will represent the Florida Conference for the 2020 episcopal election in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. She was chosen during a meeting held Saturday in Lakeland.
Austin has served as Director of Connectional and more recently Justice Ministries for the Florida Conference since 2013 and has been a Cabinet member for almost 12 years.
In July, the SE Jurisdiction will meet in Lake Junaluska, N.C. to elect bishops for as many as needed in the 15 Conferences throughout the Jurisdiction.
“I was very overwhelmed, very honored, and somewhat surprised,” she said. “But as I looked around, I appreciated all the voices in that space. They are all busy and effective leaders who took the time on a long day to make an important decision.”
|Florida's General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates pray for newly elected Episcopal Nominee|
Austin has served on numerous United Methodist boards and committees, including The General Board of Discipleship and its Division of Ministry With Young People, the SEJ Committee on Investigation, and the SEJ Committee on Coordination and Accountability that oversees Jurisdictional Ministries.
She also was the host District Superintendent of the 2012 General Conference that was held in Tampa and is the chair of the SEJ Directors of Connectional Ministry.
A former Progressive National Baptist, Austin was the first woman ordained at Ebenezer Baptist Church and one of the first in the denomination.
“I’ve experienced a first in every appointment in the Florida Conference, as either the first woman, the first person of color or both,” she said.
She serves as the Conference’s first black woman in her current role.
That history speaks to her long and passionate interest in the advancement of social justice throughout the United States and the world.
In 2015, she attended one of the worldwide Social Principles consultation conversations and later as a board member was selected to participate with one of the Social Principles writing teams.
“The gathering served as a staunch reminder of the global witness of our church and the privilege of engaging this work together. The cultural contexts, deeper and sometimes different interpretations of words and statements, help to keep us energetically involved in the work,” she wrote.
“The assumptions we made regarding what appeared to be so clear to each of us were challenged in ongoing ways. We were often close, but not quite there. Yet, we persevered. It was sometimes the case that hearts prevailed before minds because the hearts were committed to engagement.”
Austin recently joined a small delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the invitation of Bishop Lunge to come and teach the Revised Social Principles.
“When we speak of social justice, I think some people perceive it as boutique theology,” she said. “They think it is something you do when you don’t have anything better to talk about, and that’s not true.
“If we believe in God’s salvation for the world, we can’t say out of the other side of our mouths that this doesn’t apply to everyone. My understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his mission, ministry, and the salvation for all includes those who are broken-hearted and oppressed, so that everyone can know the redeeming power of God’s grace and love.”
--Joe Henderson is the Interim Communications Director for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.