Pastors would tell you they report first and foremost to God. One prominent Garner pastor will also report to the Governor.
Gov. Pat McCrory tapped Abel Grande, the pastor of the Spanish Ministry at First Baptist Church in Garner, along with 15 others to serve on his Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs.
Grande – born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to Italian parents – plays an active role within the church and the Community of Hope. He traveled to Denver as part of Garner’s All-America City delegation.
McCrory’s selections met with the governor Tuesday and learned some basics at the promotional event, but Grande said they still didn’t know how they would be divided into committees and what role he’d play.
“That’s what I was anxious to see,” Grande said. “Actually today was more of a promotion kind of thing. We all got sworn in.”
He said that in any case, he’ll continue to work in the community as he has for his last seven years in Garner.
“He’s phenomenal to work with,” Community of Hope director Amy White, who’s known Grande for most of his time in Garner. “You can always count on him to be passionate about making things work better in Garner.”
Grande said he was first contacted about the possibility of helping the administration months ago. He found out while at the beach with his family when Que Pasa newspaper called him about McCrory’s July 3 press release announcing the names.
“Why the governor picked me, I don’t know,” Grande said. “I, of course, have never run for office. And I will never run for office. I believe that my call is higher than any position in politics, to serve God.”
The council comes from nine different counties (including five people from Wake) and several different occupations, including attorney, real estate agent, teacher, outreach specialist and doctor. Grande is the only church leader. Grande said he knows most of the other members.
They will advise the governor on a variety of issues facing members of the Hispanic community.
“Staying at the forefront of this dynamic and fast-growing segment our population will be among the charges of the council,” McCrory said in a press release. “It will be a vital bridge to ensure the state’s Hispanic residents can realize their dreams and North Carolina can benefit from their unlimited potential and creativity.”
Grande calls himself a biblical conservative who believes in life and marriage between a man and a woman. He said “many years ago” he did work with the National Hispanic Republican Assembly but has done little politically of late. Asked about the tumultuous politics resulting in weekly “Moral Monday” protests for months, Grande brushed the issue aside.
“Look, it don’t matter who’s going to be in power, there’s always going to be protests one side or the other,” Grande said. “I believe the governor is doing what he’s been elected to do. There’s always going to be someone that’s not going to like it, no matter what political party is in power.”
Well-traveled – but a Tar Heel
Grande grew up in the same Italian part of Buenos Aires as did Pope Francis, though the 56-year-old Grande was 20 years younger.
“They know that if you are from Argentina, you’ve got a background from somewhere else,” Grande said of one of South America’s biggest melting pots. “I identify with the Spanish community from every country because of many things…especially soccer.”
Grande, who speaks four languages, said his congregation consists of natives of at least a dozen countries, from Uruguay to Mexico. He works closely with his congregation as well as the Community of Hope, a Garner charity that facilitates various community outreach programs, after-school programs and a food pantry. He refers families in need to the charity and the charity also leads families to him. He also frequently helps with translation, and works with police, EMS and other organizations within the community, White said.
“He is so well-respected. His demeanor and his personality make him so likable, I don’t know a single person that doesn’t like Abel Grande,” White said. “It’s not about the flash, the recognition. It’s all about relationship building for him.”
Grande initially came to the United States in early 1976, and lived in the Cicero neighborhood in Chicago as well as Evanston, Ill.
Before Garner, had spent time in Cary and Raleigh. Having worked in the state for 35 years, he considers North Carolina home.
“I love North Carolina,” Grande said. “I consider myself a North Carolinian.”