“He brings an enthusiasm that is apparently very infectious,” she said.
Church moderator Linda Conover said the new minister is outgoing, compassionate, caring and positive.
“I get the feeling that he’s excited about what each day will bring,” she said.
At Sunday services, Wednesday dinners at the church and Thursday visits with families, van Graan said he has had many opportunities to meet the congregation, and he’s eager to continue to do so.
Working with people was the reason he got into ministry in the first place, he said. In high school, when faced with the choice of going to university for music or ministry, he chose ministry and proceeded to get his ordination as minister of religion from the University of Pretoria.
“I find it fulfilling to work with people, and I am genuinely energized by people,” van Graan said.
In South Africa, van Graan worked in ministry and as a church organist for years. He also owned a travel agency for the last 12 years he was there. Then, in 2008, he and his son won a green card in the USA Diversity Visa Program. That same year they moved to Florida, where van Graan’s friend from seminary is a pastor at a Faith United Church of Christ.
While van Graan had prior connections with that church, his friend helped him reconnect with the ministry. He served as an organist and a musical director, then was selected by the First Congregational Church of Glendale.
Aluzri, who was on the search committee to find a minister, said that although the committee sifted through more than 100 minister profiles, choosing van Graan was easy.
“We were just comfortable with him from the beginning,” she said. “His emphasis and concentration matched ours very well.”
Van Graan’s unique perspective and outlook on life contributes to the church’s liberal views and acceptance of diversity, Conover said. His international background also brings a worldly perspective to the church, Aluzri said.
While van Graan lived comfortably in South Africa, there are “Third World components” to the country, he said. Aluzri hopes that the minister’s experience with such conditions will bring a new awareness to the church members.
“I think he brings a broader perspective on the Christian message,” Aluzri said. “It’s authentic and it’s important.”
Van Graan said he hopes that some day the church can help Third World countries, particularly in Africa.
“We can’t disregard the Third World; it is our calling,” van Graan said. “We cannot grow fatter and wealthier without reaching out.”