It was at the tender age of 7 that, as a young boy, James McConnell trusted the Lord Jesus to be his Saviour. Kneeling down at an old bench in the Iron Mission Hall, together with his Sunday School teacher, Sammy Jamison, he prayed the sinner's prayer, little realizing the calling that the Lord had on his young life.
Difficult years lay ahead for the young James McConnell. He would find himself orphaned, first losing his beloved mother during a subsequent childbirth, and later losing his father and other family members to the disease of Tuberculosis. Many nights were spent out on the streets, sometimes sleeping in the local park - Ormeau Park, but yet the Lord's hand was very much upon this young servant of His.
After leaving Park Parade school, at the age of 14, his first job would be in the drawing office at Belfast Shipbuilders Harland & Wolff. It would be a few years before the call to full-time ministry would be realized.
But full-time ministry was indeed the Lord's plan for this young life. Pastor James McConnell began his ministry at the age of 17. He first pastored a church in Newcastle-upon-tyne, but by the age of 19 he had moved back to his home city and begun a work on the Whitewell Road in North Belfast.
The first service began with just 10 People who had prayed together, plus 12 visitors making a grand total of 22 persons. One man recollecting the occasion, spoke with a smile as he recalled the young skinny preacher, announcing in revolutionary language about a great work that was going to start in Whitewell. Looking around that group it would have seemed impossible, but the Lord had indeed planned a great work for His servant, and for those people who stood with him that morning.
Of course, other changes were happening in the life of the young Pastor. Shortly after returning to Belfast and taking up the ministry at Whitewell, he would meet and later marry his wife Margaret. The couple would go on to have two baby girls, Linda and Julie.
The 57 years of ministry at the Tabernacle have already been well documented, and no doubt more detail on them will be made available on this website in the coming months - during his ministry three church buildings were built in the Whitewell area to accommodate the growing congregation. He has led services and preached the gospel in many leisure centres and community halls around the country. Under his direction the Whitewell church has held major gospel outreach events in the Kings Hall, Ulster Hall, Odyssey, Windsor Park, The Oval, Seaview, Ormeau Park, Ravenhill Rugby Ground, and many other venues throughout Northern Ireland and above all the Lord Jesus has saved literally thousands of souls through his preaching.
Aware of his need to have a successor in place, 4 years before retirement, Pastor McConnell and his pastoral staff invited Pastor David Purse, then Pastoring in Cullybacky Elim, to come back to his home church to become the Associate Senior Pastor. The timing was just right. Pastor would subsequently endure a heart-attack, a quadruple-byass operation with heart valve replacement, and treatment for prostate cancer. Nevertheless his spirit remained absolutely resolute, wanting to continue to do the Lord's will.
Early in 2014 Pastor McConnell became convinced that this was the right year for his retirement, although his exact retirement date was not set until the summer.
Although, from 1 September he is now officially retired from his role as Senior Pastor, James McConnell continues to serve the Lord. Speaking recently to a member of the Tabernacle staff he said "I am waiting on the Lord every day now. I am asking Him daily what He would have me to do for Him." There's no doubt that Pastor still has much to give in the Lord's service and we look forward to see what the God will continue to do with him throughout his retirement years.