Welcome to Adventist Women Leaders
We are a community of women affirming, encouraging and celebrating God’s goodness to those He has called to lead.
What started with a lunch for 15 women gathered in a conference room at the NAD Year-end Meetings in October 2017, has blossomed into a global community of nearly 300 women leaders.
On September 13, 2018, the North American Division (NAD) Administrative Committee voted to adopt and endorse the Adventist Women Leaders (AWL) initiative and appointed a committee (pictured).
“AWL is a community where we can connect, tell our stories, learn from others’ experiences and find inspiration in our shared journeys,” said Debra Brill, NAD vice president for Ministries at that time, and who chaired the committee from its inception until her retirement in 2019.
From early 2020 to August 2021, her successor Bonita Shields worked to carry forward the mission to connect, empower and facilitate growth for women in leadership. During her tenure they started hosting zoom events and conducted a survey that yielded insights about the needs of women leaders.
The committee’s goal is to create and foster a nurturing and supportive community for women who serve in leadership capacities for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and in other organizations. Women who serve as C-suite administrators, board chairs, presidents, vice presidents, directors, associate and assistant directors, superintendents, and leaders of Adventist churches and ministries are invited to join the community. They will find a group that acknowledges the gifts God has given to each woman, offers leadership development, and fosters a culture of inclusivity and opportunities for growth.
Celeste Ryan Blyden, then vice president for Strategic Communication for the Columbia Union Conference, spearheaded the initiative to create the AWL community and serves as its chair. “We have a message for women in leadership,” she says: “We see you, we acknowledge your call and accomplishments, we rejoice in how God is working through you, we are here for you, and we are praying for you.”
Blyden, now Columbia Union’s executive secretary, saw a need for a leadership community among women based on her own experience. She reached out to Brill; Tamyra Horst, who serves the Pennsylvania Conference as communication director, as well as Women’s, Family and Prayer Ministries director; and Ann Roda, vice president of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care for Maryland-based Adventist HealthCare, to form the community’s organizing committee in 2017.
In 2022, Wendy Eberhart, who succeeded Bonita Shields as NAD vice president for Ministries, began chairing the committee bringing a passion for leadership development and a strong desire to pursue mentoring opportunities for women in leadership. She was instrumental in encouraging the AWL Committee to take the next step in its development, and in October 2022, AWL joined the NAD Women’s Ministries Department, providing a place for the initiative to grow, reach and serve more women leaders with resources, events and mentoring opportunities.
DeeAnn Bragaw, director of NAD Women’s Ministries, welcomed the partnership with AWL.
“The department of Women’s Ministries serves all women, and we’re looking for fresh and relevant ways to minister to many different groups of women,” Bragaw says. “Partnering with Adventist Women Leaders gives us the opportunity to better serve women leaders, and also provides an opportunity for young women to see that there is a place for them in leadership within our church, and a community of other women leaders as well.”
As a resource network, AWL maintains a website with information and access to archives of past workshops, podcasts, and newsletters. The community fosters connection through its Instagram feed, Facebook page, and live and virtual events.
AWL hosted its first in-person “lunch and learn” event in January 2019 in Albuquerque, N.M., discussing emotional intelligence with nearly 100 women participants.
During the pandemic in 2020-2022, they began hosting virtual worship services, discussion groups and a virtual mentoring speaker series.
Through each of these opportunities, AWL profiles and highlights women leaders, provides spiritual encouragement and prayer, shares stories and lessons learned and promotes professional development and growth.
Meet the AWL Committee
Wendy Eberhardt serves the North American Division as the Vice President for Ministries and cherishes the time she spends with her husband and son. She thrives in settings where she can mentor young adults by helping them find God’s calling for their lives.
Celeste Ryan Blyden
Celeste Ryan Blyden, executive secretary for the Columbia Union Conference, is an author, editor, speaker, local church elder, and mom to two young women leaders. She is the founding director of AWL.
DeeAnn Bragaw serves as the Women’s Ministries director for the North American Division. She is passionate about serving women, including women leaders, and providing opportunities for young women to see there is a place for them in leadership within our church.
Ann Roda, a pastor and speaker, serves as vice president of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care for Adventist HealthCare, which operates four hospitals in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
As the director of communication for the Mid-America Union Conference, Brenda Dickerson enjoys collaborating with the many talented photographers, designers, writers and readers who help keep OUTLOOK magazine’s product suite strong and relevant.
Carolyn R. Forrest serves the North American Division as Associate Secretary-Director for Secretariat and the Office of Human Relations, assisting local church members, volunteers, employees, international service employees, and church/institution administrators.