Obedience is Better than Sacrifice

Obedience is Better than Sacrifice

Denise Gillard (BRS ’91) is founder and Executive Artistic Director of HopeWorks Connection and Director of Programming for Frontlines, organizations that are focused on meeting the needs of children in communities throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Denise Gillard (BRS ’91) is founder and Executive Artistic Director of HopeWorks Connection and Director of Programming for Frontlines, organizations that are focused on meeting the needs of children in communities throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Denise’s passion for ministry began at a young age, but it was not the traditional full-time ministry that originally drew her. Her initial interest in social work led to a degree in journalism, and she eventually came to Tyndale to prepare for pastoral ministry. She has served in several leadership positions at different Baptist churches in the GTA and started HopeWorks as an independent non-governmental organization.

“Our greatest challenge is apathy. There are those in the church who are keen in sharing the gospel. There are also many who are spiritually apathetic. Our churches are full of consumers and we (pastors and leaders) have catered to those who have these itching ears with our programs. Many people in the church today have a form of godliness, but are denying its power.”

—Anonymous

Before starting HopeWorks Connection, Denise was part of an urban, storefront church that ministered to the homeless and people dealing with addictions. The church plant, while struggling financially, attracted many volunteers because community work was part of the church. As the church grew, members of the church decided to move to a safer neighbourhood. After the church moved, the members were no longer involved in its day-to-day activities. “It’s about how you are living your everyday life,” Denise says. “People are most often transformed through our everyday love and action versus our organized love and action.” When her storefront church moved out of the neighbourhood it lost its witness of presence. She established HopeWorks Connection as a way to re-engage people with the day-to-day needs of the community.

HopeWorks Connection is a not-for-profit Christian organization that seeks to empower youth in the Greater Toronto Area through the performing arts, academics, and poverty relief initiatives. One key program of HopeWorks Connection is the Toronto Children’s Concert Choir and Performing Arts Company, whose mission is “to promote, develop and encourage the talents and gifts of youth in the musical arts.” Through such programs, ninety-five percent of the youth that have been involved in the organization have “gone on to do great things in university or college,” says Denise. “We wanted to use the performing arts as a means to not only reach out to kids with the love of Christ but to empower them to go on to great things and have a vision for the future.”

“I intentionally did not start HopeWorks under the church,” Denise says. “I had gained several years of experience and my experience of the church’s outreach or mission was that often people stifled what God wanted to do in terms of mission...I wasn’t sure that the entire church would be faithful to that kind of mission call.” Denise’s experience as a pastor taught her that most people sought to avoid the change inherent in missional ministry. “Some say they want new people but when new people come in they change things...My experience has been that established churches really don’t want change. They really would prefer more of a chaplain model where you marry them, and bury them, and shake them up a bit but not too much. When new people come who are truly transformed by the love of God and are looking for healthy relationships it really rocks the boat.”

“There is a ‘bubble effect’ where many of us in the church have lived comfortably in the Christian church world for so long that we no longer have non-Christian friends nor do we know how to relate with and engage non-Christians, thus the community.”

—Anonymous

As the Director of Programming for Frontlines, a community centre in the Weston neighbourhood of Toronto, Denise focuses on meeting the needs of children and youth in the community and providing a safe place for them to have “food, fitness, fellowship and fun.” Food security is an issue in the community, as many youth do not have enough to eat or have unhealthy eating habits. Her position at Frontlines has allowed her to begin a partnership between the two organizations to share resources and give youth more opportunities.

As the Director of Programming for Frontlines, a community centre in the Weston neighbourhood of Toronto, Denise focuses on meeting the needs of children and youth in the community and providing a safe place for them to have “food, fitness, fellowship and fun.” Food security is an issue in the community, as many youth do not have enough to eat or have unhealthy eating habits. Her position at Frontlines has allowed her to begin a partnership between the two organizations to share resources and give youth more opportunities.