A Northern Irish pastor who came close to death after contracting coronavirus has made his much-anticipated returned to the pulpit. Mark McClurg of Ards Elim Pentecostal Church garnered headlines back in March after tweeting messages of gospel hope directly from his bed at the Ulster Hospital.
Five months on, McClurg is still in recovery from the virus and is left with the vivid memories of a week spent in intensive care. “They told me if my lungs didn’t improve I would have been sedated,” he recalled to the Irish News. "That was talked about on the first Saturday. But that [ventillator] really did help me. It pushes oxygen right into the deepest part of your lungs.”
Even as he began to recover, Mark still required two hospital staff to help him walk. “It’s scary how quickly your body shuts down," he added.
McClurg said that he continues to suffer from severe fatigue as a result of the ongoing effects of the virus. “Even if I go out for a nice walk with my family, I have to lie down and go to sleep (afterwards)… When I take deep breaths I feel little pockets (in my lungs) are blocked," he explained. Thankfully, a recent X-ray of his lungs indicated that he was totally free from any lingering infection.
Now finally back to his ministry duties, McClurg and his team have been busy getting their church ready for a return to Sunday service, albeit with limited numbers of worshippers in attendance and strict social distancing measures enforced.
"There’s a welcome table with hand sanitiser and free masks,” he said. “If someone has forgotten a mask, one will be provided. It’s so everyone is safe and are also protecting one another as best we possibly can because all we can do is mitigate the risks.”
He added: "Obviously in church we are huggy and shake hands. We would sit down and chat before and after the service. But after the service now we will just have to leave and go home."
McClurg added that he had been overwhelmed by the support of his congregation and hopes that the community of faith will take good care of one another at this uncertain time.
“For me, church is more than just coming on a Sunday. It’s friendship. It’s fellowship," he explained. "And for me the most important thing going forward is our mental health. It’s about engaging with people and communicating with people, and that’s my heart, and that’s always been my heart.”