The Reverend Dr. Donald Edward Grayston: Theologian. Anglican priest. Peace activist. Author. Born Aug. 31, 1939, in Vancouver; died Oct. 23, 2017, in Vancouver, of pulmonary fibrosis; aged 78.
Donald Grayston was made for the priesthood. It appealed to his sense of theatre – in high school in Vancouver he played the eponymous curmudgeon in Scrooge – and at the age of 4 he taught himself to read by devouring the sacred scriptures, especially the military bits with their chronicles of defeat and victory, massacre and more massacre. But it was at an Anglican summer camp where his faith came alive. He was 13.
I met this man of deep but critical and exacting faith in the mid-1970s while both of us were pursuing doctorates, he in theology and I in English literature.
Don became a professor of the humanities at Simon Fraser University, an Anglican pastor, an internationally educated ecumenist, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, as well as of Trinity College and St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. But Don was never the ivory-tower academic indifferent to the travails and bunglings of a humanity aching into holiness.
He revelled in the minutiae of living – the muck and mire, the dreams and despairs – that make us who we are. Besides his lifelong study of monk-poet Thomas Merton, he was an avid disciple of Carl Gustav Jung and Gandhi, and a keen believer in pilgrimages (for instance, he retraced the steps of Merton’s East Asia trip in the last year of the monk’s life).
When not en route to exotic destinations, he was engaged in pastoral work, founding the Shalom Institute for justice and peace, as well as the Pacific Jubilee Program in Spiritual Formation and Direction, both in Vancouver. And then there were the books, articles, learned essays, interviews for the United Church Observer and many pointed and amusing letters to The Globe and Mail.
Practical, scholarly and occasionally ethereal, Don was also a father to three children –Megan, Rebekah and Jonathan – in whom he took great delight. There were periods of estrangement with his eldest and youngest children, but he persisted in his love for them, embraced them for who they are, and they responded in kind. He remained, including during his long physical decline, a healing presence.
He was a friend to a wide spectrum of folk, many of whom packed his funeral service at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver.
His marriage to Ginger Shaw ended in divorce, an experience that rocked him to his core. I recall his visit to my wife and me in our home in Kitchener where we sat silent with a deeply distraught friend whose spiritual and emotional compass was in disarray.
But it isn’t pain and suffering that were the defining features of Don’s life. It was rather his joy, his fervid pleasure in the surprises and epiphanies life offers.
Lynn Szabo, a colleague of Don’s, put it well when she said to him, “’Well, Don, this is goodbye,” he responded without missing a beat, “You say goodbye, but I say hello.”
Michael W. Higgins is Don’s co-author and friend.
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