Today would have been Stuart McLean’s 69th birthday. It has been just over 2 months since his passing. On February 15th, 2017, Canada lost the beloved host of the “Vinyl Café”. A weekly CBC radio program that ran for 20 years. When Stuart McLean lost his battle with cancer not only did our country lose a gifted broadcaster we lost an entire town of people. “People” with names like Dave and Morley, Jim Scoffield, Bert and Mary Turlington, Ted and Polly Anderson, Carl and Gerta Lowbeer, and Morty and Irene Zuckerman will, sadly, never be heard from again. Yes, it’s true, these are just characters on a show. But for fans, the ones that tuned in regularly, the ones who would make the drive to local theatres to watch Stuart McLean perform his show live, they are like friends we’ve known for decades.
The enduring impact of Stuart’s work was not just the way he brought his characters to life. His work was much larger than that. His life’s work seemed to be to introduce Canadians to themselves. We are big wide-open country and introductions always seem to be in order. Stuart was a consummate supporter of all things local and Canadian. Musical acts like Joel Plaskett, Jill and Matt Barber, and Danny Michel were all introduced to brand new audiences by going on the road with him. Shelagh Rogers, a CBC radio personality and personal friend of Stuart’s said this of his life and work: “I am so grateful for how much he cared. For the stories he told. For how he made us laugh, for how he made us feel about our country. How he helped us understand it, and ourselves. For the good he saw in us.”
In last few months, many Canadians have been pondering a strange grief. How is that we can miss a person we have never met? After all, most of have never met Stuart personally. It’s doubly sure that, none of us have every met any of his characters. So why the strange grief? Perhaps this is just further evidence of the power and intimacy of radio. But I think it is something much deeper than that. Stuart loved our country and its people. There is an incredible power in loving a people. You could feel that love in his stories, his essays, and the way he eagerly and regularly worked to introduce us to each other.
One of the most enduring and important reminders that missional theology offers the church is the importance of being rooted in a place. The Missio Dei invites us to be present with our neighbours, to put down roots, to plant gardens, and tie our lives to those we share the land with. The prophet Jeremiah encourages us to “seek the good of the city.” I think there is a lot the church could learn from someone like Stuart McLean. What if our churches were also known for their sustained work in loving, noticing, and introducing Canadians to each other? That’s the enduring legacy the Vinyl Café. Maybe it could be ours too?