Tributes were paid today following the death of one of Northern Ireland’s best known church leaders.
Pastor James McConnell, the founder of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, was aged 84.
A family member said he passed away peacefully on Saturday morning in the Royal Victoria Hospital after a long battle with illness.
Leading the tributes was DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
He said: “Pastor James McConnell touched lives around the world. Bringing the good news of the gospel and leading a ministry which personified the parable of the Good Samaritan. My sympathies go to his family and friends who will feel his passing most dearly.”
First Minister Paul Givan said: “It is with sadness we mourn the loss of Pastor James McConnell. A faithful servant of the Lord loved by many. Remembering especially his family and church community.”
Pastor McConnell had been seriously ill in recent weeks, and on Wednesday his church had said “the time of his departure is at hand”.
Announcing his death, Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle senior pastor David Purse said: “It is with profound sadness and indescribable pain that we announce to you this morning that just a short time ago the Lord Jesus called our beloved Pastor McConnell home to glory.
“Having been in hospital now for approximately seven weeks, ‘the Bishop’, as we affectionately knew and loved him, deteriorated to the point that the hospital, despite their best efforts, could no longer do anything for him, other than make him as comfortable as possible.
“To say they we will miss him, and are going to miss him, is a massive understatement.
“So, so, so many people owe so much to him as the man who introduced them to our great Saviour, the Lord Jesus.
“However, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge this morning that he is absent from the body, to be present with the Lord, and we shall undoubtedly see him again at the resurrection when the Lord Jesus comes with all his majesty, glory and splendour.
“In the meantime our thoughts and prayers are with his family, especially his dear wife Margaret, and daughters Linda and Julie. We would really appreciate your prayers for them at what is this saddest of times.”
In 2015, Pastor McConnell made headlines when he appeared in court charged with making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam.
It related to an address he gave at Whitewell church the previous year during which he described Islam as "heathen" and “satanic".
A three-day trial was held in December 2015. A month later, he was acquitted.
A judge said while he considered the remarks offensive, he did not consider them "grossly" offensive under the law.
Pastor McConnell had received widespread support during his trial at Belfast Magistrates Court, with scores of supporters attending each day of the trial.