By Shana LiVIGNI
On March 15, Reverend Rudolph van Graan accepted the duties of pastor of the First Congregational Church of Glendale, performing his second service this past Sunday, March 28. Born and raised in South Africa, his journey to the U.S. included a stay in Florida before finally landing Glendale.
His early years were spent traveling as his family moved around according to his father’s pastoral calling. He graduated from high school in 1979 with a distinction in music, and then enrolled at the University of Pretoria to prepare for a career in the ministry. During his seven years of study, he served as both organist and youth leader at the Preta Church in Pretoria and also did work in Zimbabwe.
Van Graan was still in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was released and the country was preparing for a new post-apartheid era. He often voiced his opposition to apartheid, and eventually realized that he no longer had a place in the Dutch Reformed Church – he stood in direct opposition to its fundamentalism. Then in 2008 van Graan said his life changed.
He and his son Alvard were the lucky winners of the USA Diversity Visa, or more commonly known as the Green Card Lottery. They moved to Florida and stayed with some friends until he finished all the requirements for the visa. He went through a process of conferences for selection in a U.S. church and, after 18 months, he was granted Privilege of Call in the United Church of Christ.
“One thing that convinced the search committee that he was the right minister for us was that he understood not only who we were, but ways in which we wanted to move forward. His experiences in South Africa give him a broader perspective on the Christian message, which we believed was important,” explained Susan Aluzri, a member of the Search Committee which ultimately chose Rev. van Graan to be FCCG’s new minister. “Also, on a personal level he is easy to talk with and we felt comfortable with him from the beginning.”
Completing his journey from South Africa to the U.S. and finally to his new home, he’s anxious to put his ideas and the congregation’s input to work.
“We want total inclusivity. We want to include anyone that comes in and that’s why we want to focus on that kind of welcome, that when someone arrives here it’s like, ‘Hello, come in, tell us who you are, tell us what you need, how you want to fit in, come to the Fellowship Hall for coffee hour, tell us about your life and how we can welcome you in,’” said van Graan. “To me, that is the third part of the ministry. First is pastoral care, [then] worship and the third is extreme hospitality.”
Church member and moderator Linda Conover said, “The members and friends of the First Congregational Church of Glendale welcomed Rudolph with warmth and enthusiasm on March 21 with a potluck luncheon. Rudolph has stated that he’s here to stay. He has already found housing in Glendale, has integrated himself with the neighboring UCC church community, and uses every opportunity to share his warmth and genuine compassion and care of the individual. We all feel very fortunate to have found Rudolph and for him to have found us.”
First Congregational Church of Glendale, 2001 Cañada Blvd. (north of GCC). For information, call (818) 243-2100 or visit the website at www.fccglendale.org.