Children as far away as Ethiopia watched online the funeral of Pastor James McConnell – known affectionately as ‘The Bishop’ – at the giant Whitewell Tabernacle church he founded in north Belfast.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson and former DUP leader Edwin Poots were among those who attended in person.
Pastor Ken Davidson (of Christ Encounters Tabernacle) led the congregation in prayer, saying: “This morning, Father, we are gathered in unity with one heart, to thank you for Pastor James McConnell – a man who has served You and loved You from a boy.
“We thank you father for your Hand on his life. We thank you for the ministry that You gave him, and enabled him with.
“And we thank you this morning Lord: there are many, many, many of us who are here and elsewhere, Lord, who have been touched by his ministry.
“We thank You for the souls that have been saved over these decades, and the backsliders who have been restored to faith.”
Pastor Michael Bunting led the first of three tributes to Mr McConnell at the service on Wednesday, but said there could have been 300 more and 300 more again.
He recalled his strong faith, how he founded the Whitewell church, recalled his work overseas and impact in the USA, describing how his influence stretched from “Newtownards to Nebraska” – as well as his love for a fish supper.
“We come here with heavy hearts, because we are mourning one of God’s generals,” he said.
“To say we miss him deeply just doesn’t cover it... sorrowful that he’s left us – but rejoicing that he has fought his fight, he’s run his race, he’s kept the faith.
“He’s gone to a place which is called: Far Better.”
He also described him as man with a “laser focus” who was a “great prayer warrior”, but also a teacher and a shepherd who was “like somebody who stepped out of the Old Testament”.
“He never forgot his roots. He loved this wee country, you know... He was a true Ulsterman; he had both communities, Protestant and Catholics, who came, in got saved, and sat under his ministry.”
Pastor Jeff Wright of the Green Pastures Church in Ballymena also led a tribute, before Mr McConnell’s son-in-law Norman Hobson delivered the third on behalf of the family.
Mr Hobson recalled a humble start to Mr McConnell’s career, from a first meeting in 1957 to set up the Whitewell Tabernacle to how he had to patch up his shoes with cardboard.
Whitewell is now one of the largest churches in Northern Ireland.
The 84-year-old died on Saturday following an illness.
He had been receiving end-of-life care at the Royal Victoria Hospital in recent days.
Mr McConnell is survived by his wife Margaret and his daughters, Linda and Julie.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson expressed his sadness at the weekend.
“Pastor James McConnell touched lives around the world,” he said.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.