To Love a Place

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Stuart McLean was a Canadian radio broadcaster best known for his show The Vinyl Cafe. His show featured stories about Dave, as lovable but hapless owner of a second-hand record store, along and his family. The show ran on the radio for years, and McLean also published books based on the stories. You can still listen to many of the stories, and hear the background between them, in a podcast called Backstage at the Vinyl Cafe.

McLean didn’t just record the show in a studio. He took his show on the road across Canada, often featuring local musical acts. He’d arrive in a place a week before his show and live there, observing people, trying to discover the stories behind that particular place.

I love listening to The Vinyl Cafe for a couple of reasons. First, I love the stories. Dave, after all, is very relatable. But there’s another reason I listen: I love the stories he told of the communities where he used to hold his shows.

Sure, he pandered to local audiences. But he did something that’s increasingly rare: he becomes a student of the place that he visits, paying attention long enough to get a sense of the place. Then he stood before an audience of people who already love the place and told them what he discovered about it. By their applause, you can tell the audience felt both seen and appreciated. It’s nice to be known and valued. It’s nice to know that someone sees the place you live, sees its quirks and its uniqueness, and decides that they like it.

A sense of place is easily erased in the age of the Internet. There was a time that our place shaped us; increasingly, we live as if pixels, not place, are what matters most. It’s easy to live and try to serve in a place without ever taking the time to learn its stories and to honor what makes it different from everywhere else.

Some towns look remarkably the same. They have the same stores. I have the feeling: I’ve been here before. This town is just like the one I passed through twenty minutes ago.

Stop long enough, and you begin to discover: this town is different. This place has a story of its own. This place is both like and unlike any other place.

Haddon Robinson used to say that there is no such thing as a good sermon. There is only a good sermon for this particular congregation. Maybe there is no such thing as a good ministry. There is only a ministry to these people in this place.

You can go too far in this direction, of course, but maybe we’ve going too far the other way. I want to learn to pay attention to where I live and serve, to learn its stories, and not become a pastor in general but a pastor of this congregation in this place. I want to pay attention to what makes this place unique. If a radio broadcaster did this well, I can too. I can learn to love a place and pastor in a place.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada