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Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle's James McConnell is no stranger to controversy

Firebrand evangelist James McConnell founded Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast and took it from humble beginnings to being one of Northern Ireland's best-known churches.

He has made his name over the years through his outspoken and often controversial sermons.

James McConnell was born on May 15, 1938 in east Belfast.

He was ordained to the Christian Ministry when he was 17 and within two years had founded the Whitewell church.

The pastor preaches not only to his crowd at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast but also at larger outdoor rallies.

In January he addressed a gathering of 1,000 people in west Belfast.

Mr McConnell has had a lengthy career as a preacher and evangelist which has not been without controversy.

He started preaching in an Orange Hall decades ago, before establishing the Whitewell Tabernacle, where his sermons attracted large audiences.

His regular congregation grew and he set up the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1994.

The landmark Shore Road church was regularly attended by Peter and Iris Robinson.

They were part of the congregation in 2010 at the time when the 'First Couple' of Northern Ireland politics were embroiled in a scandal sparked by Mrs Robinson's affair with a teenager.

At the time, Pastor McConnell assured the couple he was on hand should they need him. He also carried his message to other local venues and held rallies at Ravenhill rugby ground and the Odyssey Arena.

The preacher smashed up a Romanian children's home funded by his congregation in 2009 because he learned a paedophile ring he believed to be close to the Romanian Government had designs on the home.

Also that year he made a passionate appeal to disaffected churchgoers to return after the church was divided following a dispute between senior clergy.

The dispute came to a head when Pastor George McKim, who had been lined up to succeed Mr McConnell as senior pastor, left in a row over the timing of his succession.

Mr McConnell began conducting services in premises at Corr's Corner in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim.

In his first sermon, he was joined by 400 people.

In 2011 he suffered a serious heart attack.

It was only the second time in more than 54 years that he had not held his services.

Belfast Telegraph