Living on a Prayer: Celeste Ryan Blyden, First Female Executive Secretary of Columbia Union, On Her New Role
- Celeste Ryan Blyden is the first woman ever elected as executive secretary of the Columbia Union Conference.
- The Adventist Church is known for making it difficult for women to reach church leadership positions.
- “Those who helped me — many, many of whom are men — are far more in number than those who did not,” said Blyden.
22 November 2021 | Celeste Ryan Blyden’s mother prayed and prayed for her daughter. She prayed earnestly. She prayed faithfully. She was a prayer warrior. She prayed for God to equip Blyden, to bless her and to use her for His glory.
And if there’s one thing God does, it’s answer prayers.
Blyden, 51, was elected as the new executive secretary of the Columbia Union Conference on November 11, 2021. She starts her new job in January 2022 and will be the first woman to fill the role in the union’s 114-year history, according to an article in Visitor Magazine.
“People are saying how proud and appreciative they are of our Union for taking this step,” Blyden told Adventist Today in an email interview. “They say they have waited for this day to come.”
But it hasn’t been easy getting to this moment.
“In 29 years of ministry, I have been through a lot. Like many women I’ve been dismissed, overlooked, discouraged, stereotyped and disappointed,” said Blyden.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is known for making it difficult for women to reach church leadership positions. In 2015, delegates at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists session voted against allowing divisions to decide whether or not to ordain women pastors in their regions.
Pastoral ordination is required for conference presidents, and frequently it’s also assumed to be a requirement for other leadership positions in church administrative entities. The 2015 vote has meant that women remain barred from holding certain positions, by policy or tradition.
Sandra E. Roberts, who is the first-ever female executive secretary of a Union Conference in the North American Division, shared stories of discrimination she experienced while president of the Southeastern California Conference.
In a 2018 Facebook video from Mt. Rubidoux SDA Church (see timestamp 31:30), Roberts said she was not allowed to speak at the microphone, did not receive a delegate badge and had to be “snuck in” to all the meetings at the 2018 General Conference Annual Council, unlike the other conference presidents — who were all male.
But whenever Blyden is tempted to wallow in her feelings, she remembers three things: “First, I think about what our Savior [Jesus] endured when He was rejected by His own people; secondly, the unspeakable experiences of men and women of color in dark days gone by; and those two points alone are enough to refocus my thoughts. And then I think about the many, many people on my journey who have helped me in some way.”
Blyden named in particular Columbia Union Conference President Dave Weigley and Treasurer Emmanuel Asiedu, but also acknowledged people who asked her opinion and listened to her, put her on a committee, invited her to participate at an event, or asked her to write an article or chapter in a book.
“Those who helped me — many, many of whom are men — are far more in number than those who did not,” said Blyden. “Through this historic appointment, God used them to level mountains and cut through bars of iron (see Isa 45:2, NIV), not just for me, but for women called to ministry who have dedicated their hearts and lives to the mission and ministry of our church and stuck with it, often without recognition or titles or promotions.
“It’s a new day, and my prayer is that our tribe will increase!”