Evangelist Pastor James McConnell received a standing ovation when he attended a church service yesterday - just two weeks after suffering a serious heart attack.
Seventy-four-year-old Mr McConnell, who is a senior pastor at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, took ill on Sunday, July 17, just two hours before he was due to conduct morning service and was rushed to Antrim Area Hospital until his condition stabilised.
According to the church, Mr McConnell sustained "quite considerable damage" to his heart resulting in him requiring "triple heart bypass surgery," which is expected to take place in the next couple of weeks.
He returned to his home last Monday while he awaits surgery and was expected to be absent indefinitely from his church on Belfast's Shore Road which attracts large congregations to its Sunday and midweek services.
But to the amazement of the congregation the resilient preacher turned up at the church yesterday to take in a service.
It is only the second time in more than 54 years of service that Mr McConnell has not held his services, which are regularly attended by First Minister Peter Robinson and wife Iris among others.
Mr McConnell has had a remarkable career as a preacher and evangelist.
He started in an Orange hall decades ago before establishing the Whitewell Tabernacle, where his spirited preaching attracted large audiences.
His regular congregation grew and he set up the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1994.
He also carried his message to other venues in Northern Ireland, and in the past few months held successful rallies at Ravenhill rugby ground and the Odyssey Arena in April.
In January this year the often-controversial pastor also delivered an emotional sermon to more than 1,000 people in predominantly Catholic west Belfast.
While Mr McConnell is recovering, associate pastor David Purse, his nominated successor, has been in charge.
Mr McConnell's family thanked well-wishers for their support since he took ill.
"The considerable amount of well-wishes by telephone and on Facebook has been of great encouragement to the pastor and his family at this time," they said in a statement.