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Tributes paid to one of Northern Ireland's best-known preachers as he's laid to rest

by Press Association

Tributes have been paid to one of Northern Ireland’s best-known preachers as he was laid to rest.

Children as far away as Ethiopia watched online the funeral of Pastor James McConnell at the 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 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 “Newtowards to Nebraska”, as well as his love for a fish supper.

“He was a great prayer warrior who loved the gospel,” he said.

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.

Mr McConnell hit headlines in 2014 after calling Islam “heathen” and “satanic” during a church sermon.

He was questioned by police and was later found not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks against Islam, after a trial at Belfast Magistrates’ Court that garnered worldwide attention

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