How We Serve
As one of the Columbia Union Conference’s three executive officers, the executive secretary assists the president in providing governance and support for the union’s conferences, schools, health care networks and ministries. Secretariat helps to provide oversight of union office operations and functions; maintains and distributes official minutes, policies and resolutions of the Columbia Union Executive Committee; and ensures that the union, its conferences and entities abide by their respective constitutions and bylaws.
The secretary’s portfolio also includes supporting the union’s chapter of Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI), giving oversight to communication and publishing, and spearheading strategic planning, leadership, prayer and other projects and initiatives.
The secretary serves as vice chair of the union’s Executive Committee, university and health care network and hospital boards; chair of the union’s Board of Education, chair of the union’s radio ministry membership board, and is a member of the CURF board and several other boards and committees.
About Celeste Ryan Blyden
On November 11, 2021, the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee elected Celeste Ryan Blyden to serve as executive secretary. She is the first woman to fill the role in the union's 114-year history.
Celeste joined the union in January 2002 as communication director and Visitor editor. In 2004, she was promoted to assistant to the president and added Visitor publisher to her portfolio. In 2014, she was appointed to serve as vice president for Strategic Communication and Public Relations, making history as the first female vice president of the Columbia Union. She was re-elected at constituency sessions in 2016, and again in May 2021.
“Celeste has demonstrated a real passion for mission and effective leadership,” says Dave Weigley, Columbia Union president. “She has been a pastor, shepherd and encourager to those around her, as she led her department very effectively over the years.”
She posted on her Facebook page, “I am thankful that Columbia Union Executive Committee members saw what God is doing in my life and affirmed it. So many women who have worked tirelessly for the Church we love never got this opportunity. In this historic appointment, the door has been opened for all of us!”
Though Celeste grew up in upstate New York attending Northeastern Conference’s Ellenville (N.Y.) church, she spent much of her life in the Columbia Union territory, attending Pennsylvania Conference’s Honesdale church, graduating from its Blue Mountain Academy in Hamburg, and, in 1993, earning a double major in Counseling Psychology and Journalism/Public Relations at Columbia Union College—now Washington Adventist University—in Takoma Park, Md. She later earned a master’s degree in Organizational Communication from Bowie State University (Md.).
Upon graduating from college, she started serving as a volunteer at the North American Division (NAD), where she pitched the idea to publish a magazine for young adults called Adventist View. For the next six years, she traveled throughout the NAD speaking and sharing the startup publication at youth events and college campuses. At its height, with distribution from AdventSource, circulation reached 25,000. “Members of my generation, Gen X, were leaving the church, and I felt God calling me to do something to keep them connected,” she recalls. “Once God drafts you for service, no matter how challenging it may be at times, you become hooked because serving on His team is the most fulfilling and satisfying adventure.”
During that time, she was invited to work at the NAD as an administrative assistant, marketing coordinator, media relations manager and eventually as the division’s assistant director of communication, where she started helping church administrators with crisis communication efforts. Since 1999, she has helped churches, schools and organizations work through nearly 200 crisis situations.
Among the many initiatives and achievements to her credit is her 2013 book, Crisis Boot Camp. She is also the editor and project coordinator of the 2020 Communication Handbook, as well as project director and publisher of the Columbia Union’s 2021 Words of Life devotional book. She also co-created and produced an award-earning Hope Channel television program called Real Family Talk with Willie and Elaine Oliver for eight seasons.
In 2017, she spearheaded the Adventist Women Leaders initiative with a luncheon for 15 women administrators from across North America. The group, led by a committee of women in ministry, has grown to 300 and is a supportive network, affirming the call and leadership of women around the world.
Celeste says that many people have played a role in her journey, “from interns to administrators, all along the way God placed people in my path to help me, teach me, grow and affirm me,” she says. And, in her almost 30 years of working for the Adventist Church, she has hired more than 60 interns.
Celeste, an ordained local church elder, is a frequent speaker at churches, schools and events. She’s been invited to speak and/or conduct trainings in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, the Middle East and many places across the United States, Canada and Bermuda.
To deepen her ministry effectiveness, she enrolled in the master’s degree program in Pastoral Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (Mich.), and she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in leadership.
She is married to Austin, and they have two daughters—Larraina and Sarita.
Getting in Touch
Office of the Executive Secretary
Telephone: (410) 997-3414
Direct Line: (443) 259-9536
Executive Secretary: Celeste Ryan Blyden
Office: ext. 535
Executive Assistant: Joy Reber
Office: ext. 536