Remembering William Grant, Downtown Spiritual Leader

May. 05, 2014

Downtown residents wrote to The Trib, sharing their memories of the late Rev. William Grant, a spiritual leader who touched many lives.


'A Fierce Advocate for Social Justice'

To the Editor:

Rev. William Grant passed away on April 16. He died surrounded by his wife, Cynthia, and close friends, at peace with himself, at peace with the world. He never despaired.

William Grant, the founder of the Tribeca Spiritual Center, was a great man who came into the Downtown community a year or two before 9/11. I still remember his words, “Don’t let hate have the last word.”

I also knew William from his wonderful work in Brooklyn, where he founded the media and education program New York WEB Center, atW.E.B. Du Bois High School. His legacy there will go forward.

Over the years he also worked with homeless persons and with whoever needed his loving guidance. Rev. Grant was a fierce advocate for social justice and understanding. Others must now continue his work.

Bob Townley
Executive Director, Manhattan Youth


'He touched and will live on through each of us'

To the Editor:

The belief of Rev. Grant and the Tribeca Spiritual Center was that all religions could work and worship to­gether. On Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Native American holidays we would celebrate each of those religion’s traditions. We celebrated religion in all forms and worshipped together. It was truly a unique, touching, eye-opening and loving experience. Rev. Grant always gave profound, deeply inspiring sermons. Our friend, our pastor, our advisor, our Reverend William Grant will be honored, missed, and loved by all of the lives he touched and will live on through each of us.

John Scott


'We shared a deeper communion than I have ever felt.'

To the Editor:

Soon after 9/11, I thought of a song to commemorate my friend Marchieta who had led a group of her neighbors south along the Hudson River in Battery Park City park where boats from New Jersey ferried them to safety.

It went: “The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er. Neither have I wings to fly. Give me a boat….”

Some time after that, at the Downtown Community Center, Bob Townley hosted a neighborhood 9/11 service. After many residents had shared their stories, William Grant came over and asked if I would sing at his church. Flattered, I accepted the invitation and managed to postpone appearing for several weeks, maybe even months.

When I did finally make it to Reverend Grant’s “church,” which he called the Tribeca Spiritual Center, I was surprised to find it in the basement of a senior residence, a gathering of a dozen or two souls from many paths, following their divergent ways to a greater good.

I, too, was searching for something that worked to improve my life, deepen my values, and enhance my compassion for others despite whatever obstacles fate threw in front of me.

There, every other Sunday, in that basement room, with Jews, Baptists, Muslims, Native Americans, Catholics, Sufis, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and freethinkers, we celebrated what was good and shared a deeper communion than I have ever felt.

On the off weeks, I checked out other services in bigger churches, with church-like buildings, better choirs, organists, more members, beautiful floral displays, hymns in books, and stained glass.

But I would not leave the Tribeca Spiritual Center for any of those surface trappings, because what William delivered was a consistent and practical guide to a deeper, more meaningful life. Forgiveness, acceptance, charity.

We had wonderful music—from Broadway hit show tunes played by the composer himself to folk songs, like “The Water is Wide,” to spirituals performed by a member who was an opera singer. We listened to Christa Victoria’s amazing songs and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”

When it wasn’t live music, it was carefully chosen and well amplified. We had beautiful rituals of lighting candles, holding hands, readings from great texts, taking communion, hands-on birthday celebrations and prayer.

We had at least three ordained ministers at each service. We even had a coffee hour afterwards. And everyone played a role: deacon, reader, singer, greeter, because there were so few of us.

I brought in songs from Bonnie Raitt, the Beatles, the Eagles, Joan Osbourne, Pete Seeger, songs from my years in Samoa, and my own compositions. And I left with a practical step I could take each week to become a better person.
This past Thursday, with great sadness, we bid aloha to Reverend William Grant at the Downtown Community Center. What he taught us were the three feet of the stool of a balanced spiritual life: to meditate or pray, to read from great writings, and to journal.

And I left him with this Polynesian song that I translated: The things in my life that I hold dear, the flower behind my ear, the precious shell, the sweet smell spread over the ocean, the decoration I wear when I go roaming. E le mafai ona fa’agaluina.

We will always remember you, William.

Mafa Edwards