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There’s a great story in the News from Hope College archives about the time Aaron Goodyke ’16 saved Christmas for Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville, Illinois. Aaron was, at the time, a senior vocal music education and organ major here on campus. A friend of his called him and asked if he was willing to play the organ for her church’s Christmas concerts on Christmas Eve 2014. We hope you enjoy the story as much as we did.
A Gift of Time and Talent
Originally published: News from Hope College April 2015
It’s not the sort of early-morning phone call you want to receive when you’re the minister of music and your church’s multiple Christmas Eve services—carefully planned, conscientiously rehearsed and eagerly awaited by so many in the congregation—are only hours away from beginning.
The organist is too sick to play, and there’s no back-up. Yikes.
Grace United Methodist Church of Naperville, Illinois, was in a bit of a bind on December 24, but fortunately Hope junior organ student Aaron Goodyke of Zeeland, Michigan, also answered the phone that day. With a giving heart and no small amount of talent—and just two hours’ notice—he leapt in his car, made the trip to Naperville, performed during the church’s three evening services… and then drove back to West Michigan, arriving brief hours before he was scheduled to play during his own church’s Christmas-morning service.
Dan Wagner, Grace United’s aforementioned minister of music, didn’t know what he was going to do after taking that first, challenging call. He quickly made some inquiries, but without success.
It happens, though, that Hope parent Lynn Leitzen is worship leader and director of children’s choir ministries at the church, and her daughter Claire, a Hope junior, was in the room when Lynn received a text from Dan about the dilemma.
“I have been friends with Aaron since my freshman year at Hope and know how truly gifted and talented he is,” said Leitzen, who is studying in Barcelona, Spain, this semester. “I texted Aaron that I needed him to come to Naperville as soon as I found out we were looking for an organist, mostly kidding at the time. As 20 minutes passed and my mom had spoken with Dan Wagner and he said that he was having a very difficult time finding another organist in the area on such short notice, my texts to Aaron became more serious.”
Wagner admits that he initially had some doubts. That was no reflection on any specific person, but instead stemmed from his thorough understanding of the enormity of the task: services with multiple components, challenging music, each program unique, practically no opportunity to rehearse and an intense pace.
“Nothing was the same from one service to the next—it was just ridiculously complicated,” Wagner said. “From my perspective, it was a huge leap of faith: can someone of this age handle something like this—and he’s [three hours away] in Michigan.”
Goodyke didn’t hesitate to say yes when asked—he was glad to help. A vocal music-education major, he has been playing the organ for four years and the piano for more than twice that, and performs at area churches. He had even been featured in Hope’s Christmas Vespers services in Dimnent Memorial Chapel just a few weeks earlier.
But, as he made the drive to Naperville, he began to think a bit about what he had committed to doing, and to have some doubts of his own. He had never even seen the church’s organ before.
Neither Wagner nor Goodyke need have worried.
“It was just a fantastic experience,” Wagner said. “He had great confidence and poise, and stayed calm under tremendous pressure and really did a terrific job.”
The three services ran at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. More than once, the first time Goodyke saw some of the music was when it was time for him to perform it. Leitzen, who participated herself as a vocalist earlier in the day (there were four other services previously), sat at the organ with Goodyke as “page-turner.”
“It was just a fantastic experience. He had great confidence and poise, and stayed calm under tremendous pressure and really did a terrific job.” – Dan Wagner, minister of music at Grace United Methodist Church of Naperville, Illinois
“He sight-read almost 40 pieces of music perfectly,” she said. “I think I messed up more than he did!”
When the last service concluded at 12:30 a.m., Leitzen drove back to Zeeland with Goodyke so that he could rest during the trip. The pair arrived at Zeeland at 5:30 a.m., with Goodyke due at his church in two hours. Claire subsequently caught the Chicago-bound Amtrak in Holland at 8:30 a.m. and returned home to celebrate Christmas with her family.
Goodyke credits his Hope experience with preparing him for his contributions in Naperville. In fact, he notes that Hope’s organ program and the opportunity to study with Dr. Huw Lewis were major factors in his decision to attend the college. “I was very capable of being part of it and making it happen because of my training through the music department here,” he said.
Leitzen and Wagner both credit Goodyke with giving a meaningful gift to a church family that will long remember him and what he did.
“He received many gracious ‘thank yous’ after the services were over, from choir members and congregation alike,” Leitzen said. “It was a wonderful evening for all, as many could not imagine a Christmas at Grace Church without an organ. It truly was the act of a person with a servant heart and a love for the Lord.”
Wagner agreed. “It was absolutely the most enthusiastic response that I’d ever heard from the congregation,” he recalled. “It was just enthusiasm and gratitude from the congregation, and it was really memorable.”