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August 31, 1939 – October 23, 2017 

Donald Edward Grayston was born in Vancouver, BC, in the Vancouver General Hospital. His mother was Marion Houston Macdonald Grayston (1912-2004); his father was Edward Walter Grayston (1913-1992). His first name came from his mother’s family name; his middle name honored his father. His parents met on March 9, 1932, at a meeting of the Anglican Young People’s Association (AYPA) at St Mary’s Church in Kerrisdale, where on December 3, 1939, the First Sunday of Advent and his paternal grandfather’s 75th birthday, he was baptized.

Both his parents, for financial reasons, were forced to leave school as teenagers. His father worked from that time until his retirement as a ship chandler; he was “Ted” to his family, “Eddie” to his workmates. His mother worked as a stenographer in the offices of chartered accountants, where her nickname was “Tillie,” after a cartoon character of the time, Tillie the Toiler.

Early in WWII, his father joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), with which he served in Manitoba, England, the Netherlands and Germany. Soon afterward, his mother, with her two children, Donald and Helen (b. 1943), moved in with her parents, who lived in a large apartment in Holly Lodge, in Vancouver’s West End.

After the death of his grandfather, he became the only male in the apartment, where he lived until January 1946 with his mother and sister, his aunt Cordelia, his grandmother, Helen Macdonald, and his great aunt, Maud Armstrong—five females and one little male. He attributes his ease of communication with (most!) women to this strongly feminine time of formation. Aged 4, he taught himself to read by reading the Bible, in particular the accounts of the wars of the kings in the Hebrew scriptures.

He started elementary school in 1945 at Lord Roberts, transferring to Lord Tennyson in the spring of 1946, after a family move to 2194 West 14th, in Kitsilano, where the family remained until 1949. It was during those years that he and Helen were taken to Sunday School at Canadian Memorial United Church by a United Church neighbour.

In 1949, the family moved to 3776 West 39th Avenue. It was this house which figured prominently for the rest of his life in his dreams as his archetypal home. He went to Kerrisdale School for Grade Six, where his great moment was besting the teacher in a spelling bee with the word antidisestablishmentarianism.

Between 1950 and 1956 he attended Lord Byng Secondary School, where he particularly enjoyed English, French, Latin, Drama and Typing—the latter being the most useful course of his entire high school career. His great moment in high school: playing the part of “Scrooge” in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

 When he was 13, his mother became concerned that he had few friends, and sent him for a two-week session at Artaban, the Anglican camp on Gambier Island. It was here that his faith came alive; within two months of his time there he had decided to be ordained.

As did most of his fellow graduates from Byng (188 out of 216), he registered at UBC in September 1956. He began in Classics, but found that the department head assuming a dominating role in his life, and switched to English, receiving his BA with First Class Honours in 1960. He later regretted that he had not switched to Modern Languages instead.

For his 17th birthday, his sister gave him Archbishop Trevor Huddleston’s book about apartheid in South Africa, Naught for Your Comfort. He wrote to the author, a correspondence which led to his going for the first two years of theological study to the school maintained by Huddleston’s community, the College of the Resurrection, at Mirfield, West Yorkshire, in England. He did his third year at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, where he received his MDiv cum laude in May 1963. He was ordained deacon on September 8, 1963, and appointed as assistant to Bernard Barrett, rector of St Andrew’s Church, Trail, where he was ordained priest on April 7, 1964.

He left Trail in 1967, and enrolled in the affiliated-BA program at Cambridge University, which proved unsuitable for two reasons. The program did not give him access to work with senior faculty, and he found the class atmosphere of the university uncongenial. He left after two terms, and spent the third term very happily at Woodbrooke, the Quaker college in Birmingham.

After a summer travelling in Europe, he registered for the Graduate Winter Program at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, in the canton of Vaud, a joint project of the World Council of Churches and the University of Geneva. While studying there, he met his wife, Mary-Virginia (Ginger) Shaw, a lay minister at the American Episcopal church in Geneva. They were married civilly in Geneva in May 1969; the church wedding took place in the chapel of Ginger’s seminary, the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were divorced in 1992.

After an interim year at Sorrento Centre, and two years in Rossland, where he was also Anglican-United chaplain at Selkirk College, Castlegar, he went to Toronto, where he received a ThM from Trinity College, and a PhD from St Michael’s College, both in the Toronto School of Theology in the University of Toronto. It was at St Michael’s that he began his study of Thomas Merton, an interest which he maintained to the end of his life.

From 1977 to 1985 he was rector of All Saints’ Church in Burnaby. During this time he became aware of the terrible peril from nuclear weapons in which the planet stood and still stands. In 1985 he founded the Shalom Institute, the work of which was focused on the place of justice and peace issues in theological education in Canada. Out of this grew the Pacific Jubilee Program in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction, launched in 1988 and still active.

In 1989 he began teaching Religious Studies as a sessional instructor at Simon Fraser University. This became a full-time position in 1993. He taught Introduction to World Religions, the Holocaust, Gandhi and Thomas Merton. For the last three years at SFU, he was director of the Institute for the Humanities, retiring as then required by law in 2004.

He did some post-retirement teaching at SFU, and in 2006 undertook a 600K walk in Britain, from Land’s End to Newcastle. In the cathedral in Newcastle he experienced three epiphanies, which convinced him that his walk had become a pilgrimage. The third of these was a memory of a sermon he had heard at a youth conference 47 years earlier, a riff on the letters of the organization, AYPA. The preacher, Bishop Ralph Dean, took those letters to represent All Your Past Absolved, All Your Present Accepted, All Your Potential Assured. At that moment, a memory became a felt experience.

Having learned something of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a student in the last course he taught on the Holocaust, he committed the remainder of his active retirement (2007-14) to raising the consciousness of Canadians to the realities of that conflict through programs of public education. He regarded this issue as having the same level of moral claim on contemporary Christians as had the civil rights issue in its time. Finding stronger support for this viewpoint in the United Church than in the Anglican Church, he divided his church time of the last few years between the two churches.

He had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2000, and began to use oxygen with exertion in 2013, and to use it full-time in 2015. He died in hospice on October 23, 2017 and is survived by his daughter Megan and her husband Rick, his daughter Rebekah and her partner Mark, and his son Jonathan, who lived with him and cared magnificently for his needs from January 2017 until the end; his sister, Helen, brother-in-law Douglas, and their family.


We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out

(1 Timothy 6:7).

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s

(Romans 14:7-8).

A tribute to Donald Grayston by Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun  (please click on the link)

Donald Grayston’s Funeral video (please click on the link)


Donald Edward Grayston

1939 – 2017

These are some insights that I gathered together in September 2013, at the time of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of my ordination. My life and my ministry would have been enormously enhanced if I had known and applied them over those fifty years. I bequeath them to you now, dear friends, at the end of my life, in the hope that they may shed some useful light on your path. As I do so, I send them out with profound gratitude for the help you have given me as I have walked my own path. Love, Don Grayston

1. Work with the people who want to work with you.

I think I was past fifty when the truth of this burst upon me. I spent years trying to persuade people (I’m thinking here of parish life) who would rather have eaten ground glass than work with me to work with me. Meanwhile, the good folk who were ready and willing to work with me were being neglected in favour of the others. What a waste!

2. The only moment available to us is the present moment, commonly called “now.”

I used to tell my students that the secret of life (they had to come to every class, because I never knew when I would proclaim this, and would they want to miss out on the secret of life??) was this: to be lovingly present to the present moment. I say “lovingly” because there are other ways to be present to the present moment: guiltily, angrily, fearfully, and so on. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow never comes, today is the only day we have. This of course is an insight which becomes more real as one advances in age. It is also necessary to understand that the only entrance into eternity is from the present, not the past or the future.

3. Include and transcend.

This is a mantra from American philosopher Ken Wilber which I find profoundly illuminating. Many of the attitudes and practices and involvements of our lives lose their validity or their pertinence as time goes on. Rather than reject them, or tear them out by the roots, follow Rumi’s advice, give them a hug and move on, transcend them without rejecting or excluding them. This has a particular applicability to my Christian identity. I acknowledge that there is truth and beauty in all religious traditions, and that the Christian tradition ought not to be absolutized as the only repository of truth. So I include my Christian identity in a larger spiritual identity which permits me, with Thomas Merton as a tremendous model, to encounter others primarily as human beings rather than persons identified in a limiting sense with their traditions of origin.

4. Pain is the door to awakening.

As Richard Rohr says, “we must go down before we even know what up is.” I think back to the time (I was 49) when my marriage ended. I had a very painful experience of failure and exile. But somehow out of that came such a spiritual awakening or expansion that I now think of the time before that as a time of profound sleep, and the time after as the beginning of my real awakening. I developed a periodization of my life at the time – being sleep, waking up, going crazy with the pain, becoming sane. I later realized I had to add a fifth stage: staying sane.

5. Whatever of our pain or woundedness we don’t transform, we transmit.

This is Richard Rohr again. It’s also what the Bible is talking about when it refers to how both negative and positive impulses are transmitted to “the third and fourth generations.” If we don’t deal with the wound, turn it into a sacred wound as Rohr would say, it will continue to infect our relations with others. Pain and suffering of some sort, he says, “seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance,” to shake us up, in other words. (And thanks to Dawn Kilarski, who was the first person I learned this from.)

6. God suffers when we suffer.

If I didn’t believe this, I couldn’t be a Christian. It is the way forward through the apparent conundrum about why bad things happen to good people. The process theologians see this as part of the evolutionary process whereby God reconciles the world to himself. Muslims have a wonderful image of this in the image of the carpet of history. The open end of the carpet includes all the threads of our experience, including our suffering. God the weaver weaves them all into the forward movement of humanity. For Christians, of course, it is the crucifixion of Jesus which is the supreme emblem of this.

7. For every stupid statement I made and that I regret, there were ten or a dozen statements I regret not making.

This brings together two virtues, discernment and courage — or let’s just say guts. We need to know what to say and have the guts to say it when the moment is upon us. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible says: “there is a time to speak and a time to keep silence.” I see a parallel here with Jesus’ comment that we should render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Fine, in both cases: but which is which? We still have to tackle the discernment question; and having come to a conclusion, find the courage to say what we need to say when we come to the time to speak.

8. The art of living is the art of knowing what is in front of your face at any one time, any particular “now.”

This comes from the non-biblical gospel of Thomas, in which Logion (saying) 5 says this: “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed; for there is nothing hidden that will not revealed.” I read this as if for the first time about three years ago and found it astonishing. I was able to apply it immediately to certain parts of my past, about which I asked myself why I couldn’t see what was in front of my face. That then took me to the present, and the need and opportunity to ask myself what is in front of my face right now. You can test this for yourself right now, by asking yourself what is in front of your face at this very moment.


Sir Walter Raleigh (1152-1618), lines which I read most mornings on my UK pilgrimage before setting out on the path. ~ Donald

Excerpt: The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My scrip of joy, immortal diet,

My bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.


Blood must be my body’s balmer,

No other balm will there be given,

Whilst my soul, like a white palmer,

Travels to the land of heaven;

Over the silver mountains, Where spring the nectar fountains;

And there I’ll kiss

The bowl of bliss,

And drink my eternal fill

On every milken hill.

My soul will be a-dry before,

But after it will ne’er thirst more…



Condolence Messages

  1. Christian Venhuizen

    05 February 2021 1 year ago

    Don came to mind recently, as he often has since I graduated from SFU in 1996. We emailed a few times over the years when I moved to Asia and later returned to Canada. I just want to share with you that Don had a profound effect on me (and others) over the years–I’ve modelled much of how I approach teaching based on my interactions with him. The fact that this is possible teaching in a Business department may be surprising!

    There are no words that can take away the pain of losing a close family member (I still think about my own father almost every day a decade after his passing). However, knowing that he had an immense impact on other people may help make it a little easier.

    Peace and grace to you.

  2. Patricia

    21 August 2018 4 years ago

    Sadly, I only learned of this wonderful man after his death last year. When I heard his name, I realized we are related by marriage, traced back to the emigration of our ancestors over 100 years ago. What a joy to learn of his goodness in our world and to know many fortunate souls have been impacted so positively by his ways. R.I.P. Rev. Grayston and blessings of peace to all who love and miss him. +

  3. Gyllian Davies

    12 December 2017 5 years ago

    I have just learned that this dear soul is gone from our world and my heart aches for the loss.
    Donald was key in my life at several crucial moments, helping me to find my path through to the light. He has always held a special place in my heart because of his inspiration and belief in me at those moments. He was first, our priest in Rossland when I was a young teenager, and then the youth minister when I was 17. Because of him I went to Argenta Friends School which transformed my life. When I was in my 40’s he again came through for me as I returned to the church after several decades with the Quakers. Because of him I held fast when second thoughts assailed me. And then this past summer he once again gave me stellar support with my first and very challenging posting as a newly ordained Anglican priest. Donald, your zest for life was contagious and inspiring. May he soar with the angels.
    My loving prayers and thoughts to the family. Gyllian Davies

  4. Joël Pomerleau

    06 December 2017 5 years ago

    I came to Donald Grayston’s class in the late 1990s with what I believed was a sophisticate’s distaste for religious tradition; Donald put me soundly in my place entirely through his example. Confronted by an ignorant and not-entirely-unsanctimonious 19-year-old, his patience, curiosity, and humour were utterly disarming. Donald gently helped me understand how little I understood, and in this way granted me a share of his abundant compassion.

    In his rigour of mind and his deep and diligent kindness, Donald Grayston remains an inspiration to me to this day. My condolences to his family and loved ones. May he rest in peace.

  5. Ngaio Davis

    27 November 2017 5 years ago

    Donald Grayston: Peace-maker, peace-disturber, RIP

    A tribute article by Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun

  6. Catherine Larose

    24 November 2017 5 years ago

    I share my condolences with Donald’s family and those closest to him. He married myself and my husband in 2014 (what a gorgeous sermon he gave- I remember everyone being at the edge of their seats) and he met our little baby Zofia a couple times before he died. He was a “Good Heart” (the Dalai Lama coined this phrase), meaning, in one sense, he had a Big and Generous Heart that invited the present moment as it came and with joyfulness, openness, and curiosity. One memory I have of him is being at his home a few years back for a Chalking of the Door Epiphany party and I was so happy to be included. The thoughtfulness, joyfulness, and wisdom of that night has stayed with me. He added light to my life and I will miss him.

  7. Anne Pirie

    17 November 2017 5 years ago

    Dear Members of Donald’s family:
    I share my gratitude for Donald Grayson’s gifts; he gladdened the hearts of many. I send my condolences to family members in this tender time of loss. My husband, Eldon Hay, used to savour Donald’s writings and often brought these to my attention. Peace and blessings, Anne Pirie

  8. Judy Archer

    17 November 2017 5 years ago

    Hello Megan, Rebekah and Jonathan ,

    Michael Jones and I send our condolences for the loss of your Dad. He had avery special place in our life. He married us in 1974 in Toronto and again we did a renewal of vows up near Orillia in 1994.

    He was a wonderful advocate for our relationship now almost 43 years later.

    Judy Archer

  9. Ted Harrison (Rev. Dr.)

    17 November 2017 5 years ago

    Don Grayston was a remarkably wise, accepting, and goofy spiritual mentor. He could hear your deepest secrets with loving care, and entrusted his own deep self with generosity. He had this amazing gift– he WAS this amazing gift– of spiritual honesty: grounded, curious, adventurous, and humble. Brilliant, knowledgeable and accomplished, without so much of a hint of pomposity. And goofy– did I mention that he was goofy?

    The world needs more Don Graystons. I need more Don Graystons.

    I feel so very blessed and enriched to have studied with him, and to have enjoyed his friendship.

  10. Carolyn and Geoff Whitney-Brown

    16 November 2017 5 years ago

    We can’t remember when we first met Don — it must be more than 20 years ago. Probably we were introduced by Michael Higgins. Don was always generous in his enthusiasm, wisdom and support of everyone around him. His life was a blessing.
    Carolyn and Geoff

  11. Barry Fleming

    15 November 2017 5 years ago

    We have lost the best of men,a man of wisdom,warmth and wit.He was a principled humanitarian and a passionate advocate for social justice.

    Donald,my brother,how I will miss you.

  12. Mike Brennan

    15 November 2017 5 years ago

    In 2011, Don was the immediate past president of the International Thomas Merton Society and program coordinator for the 12th General Meeting of the ITMS held at Loyola University Chicago (http://merton.org/chicago/), for which I served as site coordinator. We were fortunate to have his wisdom and guidance, and he will be greatly missed. On behalf of the Chicago Chapter-ITMS, my prayers and deepest sympathy to Don’s family and friends. We have posted photos of Don serving the ITMS through the years on our public Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/International-Thomas-Merton-Society-1489942551240353/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2052300081671261

  13. Diane McGill(Herger)

    14 November 2017 5 years ago

    I knew Don from his time at All Saints Anglican Church, Burnaby.. Even in ILL health, Don commemorated my Mom, Marjorie Herger in 2015. Don will be missed. My condolences to his family.

  14. Shannon Ganshorn

    14 November 2017 5 years ago

    Rebekah. Your Dad was your light and your inspiration for many things. His light and spirit will continue to live through you and your kindness. Much love and warm hugs to you.

  15. Miriam Frey

    14 November 2017 5 years ago

    The leadership team of Ontario Jubilee send their love to the family. Don was instrumental in starting our program and was always encouraging and freely shared his wisdom. We hold you in prayer as you celebrate Don’s life and ministry. We will miss his wit and warm smile. Peace to you,
    Miriam Frey on behalf of Ontario Jubilee staff and participants

  16. Frank Jones

    14 November 2017 5 years ago

    I appreciate the three years I spent with him as my spiritual director. My wife and I want to express our sincere condolences to Helen and Douglas and all the family. Frank and Diane Jones.

  17. Victoria Lyon

    13 November 2017 5 years ago

    Professor Grayston led me to an understanding of the role of pilgrimage in my life, to appreciate how it had shaped my spiritual growth and to be thankful for each epiphany. He was an inspiring teacher with a wonderful sense of both humour and gravitas. I feel blessed to have known him and send loving thoughts to his family… especially Rebekah whom I was fortunate to meet as a fellow student.

  18. Dianne Marie Des Rosiers

    13 November 2017 5 years ago

    I wish to share my sincere condolences & sympathies. Two of my favorite prayers/verses/poems I learned from Don I use often to centre & become grounded. Thank you Don for emailing these to me. I am sharing for viewers’ edification.

    “Thomas Moore Prayer
    Hands together at the sternum/heart, then bow to the earth
    Arms raised, reaching for God
    Arms in a circle, tips of middle fingers touching – embracing life
    …including yourself–arms crossed on chest
    Arms raised in surrender position — vulnerability and blessing
    Clap hands to wake yourself and everybody else up
    Hands together again, and bow to honour the earth

    The Thich Nhat Nanh verse
    Breathing in, I calm my body.
    Breathing out, I smile.
    Dwelling in the present moment,
    I think it is a wonderful moment.

    Breathe in / calm,
    Breathe out / smile,
    Breathe in / moment,
    Breathe out / wonderful.”

    Presented by Donald Grayston, Becoming the Change: Spiritual Formation for Peace Makers at the Thomas Merton Conference, Canadian Memorial Peace Centre March 8, 2008.

  19. Alan Whitehorn

    06 November 2017 5 years ago

    For several years in the mid-1990s as the visiting JS Woodsworth Chair in Humanities at SFU, I was delighted to meet Don and get to know him. He was a thoughtful, kind and dedicated person. I always enjoyed our conversations and his insights. I often wished I could have sat in on his comparative religion course. We will miss his gentle wisdom and grace on our shared journey.

  20. Robert Doll

    04 November 2017 5 years ago

    Knew Don from when we both matriculated at UBC the fall of 1956! A good and generous friend and mentor. I will miss him (and his fun and socially conscious birthday celebrations!). 😉

  21. Derek Evans

    02 November 2017 5 years ago

    Much gratitude for the many gifts Don shared with us all.

  22. Julia Roberts

    02 November 2017 5 years ago

    Dear Jonathan. Megan, and Rebekah,
    I heard of Don’s passing at the All Soul’s Service at St. Saviour’s Nelson, this evening. His name was among the many we remembered at that service. Although I knew Don was in hospice, I had hoped to be in touch by email a few more times before he left us.

    Don was a curate in Rossland-Trail when I was in high school. He brought fresh ideas and inspiration to a teenager who had grown up in an isolated community and had a very limited world view. I remember that he encourage me to go away to university rather than attending the new local community college. It was the right decision. I have happy memories of him coming to dinner with my family. There was much good conversation and great humour around the table.

    I have been in contact with Don intermittently over the years. I always found him thoughtful, engaging, and ready to take on good causes. In recent years I enjoyed his interesting and challenging emails.

    My sincere condolences on your loss.
    Julia Roberts

  23. Dale Taylor

    01 November 2017 5 years ago

    I knew Don when he was pastor at All Saints, Burnaby, BC. May Don rest in peace and his family find strength at this difficult time. My prayers are with you.

  24. Lois Rumsey

    01 November 2017 5 years ago

    Dear Members of Donald’s Family, I learned this morning in the Globe and Mail that Donald has died. As an old friend, I share your sorrow in the loss of a wonderful human being who gave us so much of himself. His intelligence, his passion, his commitment, and especially his enjoyment of life and great sense of humour were a gift to all of us who loved him as well as a gift to the causes he championed. May he rest in peace and rise in Glory. Loving wishes to you all, Lois Rumsey

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