Pastor James McConnell was ordained to the Christian Ministry at just 17 years old and just two years later began the Whitewell Church. He recently celebrated 54 years in the ministry, a remarkable achievement indeed. The faithfulness shown by Pastor McConnell has certainly been rewarded as thousands have been converted to God through his ministry – one that has exploded in the areas of both radio and television, yet he continues to preach the gospel at various crusades all across the nation.
The call of God came early to Pastor McConnell who was born on 15th May 1937 into the humble home of 14 Spring Street, East Belfast. Although orphaned at a young age he was not alone, for even at that early stage God was with him, preparing him to preach the Gospel and reach the lost. Under the supervision of Sunday school teacher Sammy Jamison he knelt down at an old bench in the Iron Hall and gave his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. He may only have been seven years old but James McConnell will tell you that it is still the greatest day of his life.
Despite being separated unto the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Pastor McConnell, now in his mid-seventies, has remained unassuming to all who know him. His loyal wife Margaret and both daughters with their families all accept that the Gospel has first place in his life.
It was wonderful to welcome Pastor David Purse from Cullybackey Elim Church on September 1st 2010 as our associate pastor and successor to Senior pastor James McConnell. Pastor David was officially inducted at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Belfast on 20th February 2011 at our 54th anniversary services.
During his time at the Tabernacle, his Wednesday night bible classes have literally become the ‘talk of the town’ as he thrills the Whitwell congregation with outstanding weekly expositions from God’s Word.
Pastor David grew up in the Whitewell church; nevertheless his path to that of Associate pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle hasn’t been an easy, nor straightforward one.
Saved in April 1978, it was less than 2 years later, when he was just 14 years old, that his policeman Father was brutally gunned down by terrorists and killed while on duty during the height of the troubles in Ulster. Naturally he, his two younger brothers and indeed entire family circle were left devastated by the incident.
Notwithstanding it didn’t deter Pastor David from going on with God and eventually entering the ministry. As the Tabernacle’s popular new successor puts it, “mum took us on one hand and God took us on the other and proclaimed: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’”
And that’s exactly what Pastor David did. It was a major turning point in his life. A period when he could easily have become bitter, not better, yet God’s hand was always upon the young man.
He was baptised just a month later and following a powerful prophecy, he heard the call to the ministry. In his own words: “Life thereafter became a preparation for Christ’s service.”
In 1985 he married Donna and on 6th September 1987 Pastor David was ordained at Whitewell and went to pastor our church in Newry. In 1990 he and Donna, along with their first son Jonathan left for east Yorkshire where he was pastor of two churches some 17 miles apart in Withernsea and east Hull.
While there two more sons were born – Matthew and Calvin. In 2007, however, the winds of change again blew in for Pastor David and his family. Following 18 years of faithful ministry, they felt that they had done all God intended for them to do in England and believed God was calling them back to their homeland of Ulster. Taking charge of Cullybackey Elim Church near Ballymena in 2008, Pastor David was convinced this was the place he was destined to spend the rest of his ministerial career, yet God had another surprise in store.
In December 2009 Pastor McConnell asked Pastor David to pray about coming “home” and becoming associate pastor at the Tabernacle, before taking over the mantle at the Tabernacle. It was an offer too good to refuse. As he explained: “what a tremendous honour and after much prayer and soul searching we believed this was the Lord’s will and happily accepted the invitation.”
Certainly, if Pastor David’s preaching is anything to go by, the future of the Tabernacle is in good hands; as he puts it himself: “We praise God for all that is passed and we trust Him for all that is to come.”
Pastor William is a faithful and caring pastor with a special ministry in visitation work. He also supervises the entire bus fleet at the Tabernacle and has done for many years. Pastor William has been a member of the Tabernacle from his teenage years. He was 15 when he first came to the church when it was just a little hall at the bottom of the Whitewell Road.. He entered the ministry full-time 30 years ago. His engineering background became invaluable during the four building projects that the Metropolitan Tabernacle has undertaken. A popular and dedicated pastor, William is part of the furniture at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Norman is a versatile and gregarious individual, who has been in full-time ministry for 28 years. After serving as Youth pastor for 10 years, he has continued to serve as musical director at the Tabernacle for 18 years. A talented producer, Norman has scripted all the choir musicals, and has written a number of the choir songs and worship choruses sung at the church. He has previously served on the board of UCB and is a most valuable benefit to the Tabernacle with regard to his communicational gifts.
Pastor Irwin has been a pastor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle for 23 years and is widely regarded in our church as a man of many talents. He is a natural born worship leader with a great gift to sing, but has a real caring heart for people too as was clearly evidenced by the tremendous evangelical work he accomplished for the Lord in Andersonstown in the west of our city. A large part of his ministry is the visitation of many new converts and encouraging them as they begin their journey with the Lord. Pastor Irwin is also a skilled preacher and speaks occasionally at the Tabernacle and elsewhere. He has a consistent ministry of prayer and is a real all-round blessing to the people of our church.
Pastor Michael, who has been a pastor for 22 years at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Belfast, has a very special gift to preach the Word of God. His anointed ministry often reaches people at the very point of their need. Pastor Michael also possesses a great love for the people of God. He loves to visit with people, encouraging and ministering to them. He is sometimes considered amongst the pastors to be a bit of ‘court jester’, but this is to underplay the seriousness for which he views the things of God. A real student of God’s Word, Pastor Michael can both preach and pray, as they say, ‘at the drop of a hat.’
Pastor Shaw is in charge of both the Rock ministry and the Men’s fellowship. He has been in full-time ministry in the Metropolitan Tabernacle for 17 years now. Most of this time was serving as Youth Pastor, until recently when he gave way to the younger Mark Penney. In addition to his regular visitation ministry, Pastor Shaw is a popular and zealous pastor here at the Tabernacle with a friendly and approachable disposition.
David has been on the Pastoral Staff at the Tabernacle for 10 years. Like many of the Pastors visitation is a large part of his work, but David also has a special ministry which focuses on people with addictions, including alcohol and drugs. The Lord has used him greatly in this area and he has been an encouragement to many. He has also been a blessing regarding our African outreach in Ethiopia. Such is his love for the House of God here at the Metropolitan Tabernacle; Pastor David holds several prayer meetings per month at his own house in order to pray for the ministry.
One of the younger members of the Pastoral Team at the Tabernacle, David is emerging as a real man of God with many strings to his bow. His organizational skills helped pave the way for tremendous successes at Ravenhill Rugby ground and Andersonstown Lesuire Centre respectively. Pastor David has been in the ministry for 7 years where he has been greatly used helping children who have come to know the Lord at the Tabernacle. He is also responsible for our Kenya missionary outreach and organises the church exhibition stand at the huge Balmoral show held annually in Belfast.
Pastor Mark is another young man with a great future at the Tabernacle. A popular Youth Pastor here at the Tabernacle, like Pastor David, he has been on staff for 7 years. He understands very well the needs of this current generation and has pushed the Youth to a new level in recent years through "blaze outreach" which is an evangelical outreach to the youth of our province. Having so many young people in his care is hard work, but the Lord has really blessed and equipped this talented young man, as he continues to see the The Well grow both spiritually and numerically.
Pastor John has been on staff for 10 years, seven of which were spent in missionary outreach. Since returning to the Tabernacle in January 2008, pastor John has slotted into the team in numerous ways. With a background in journalism and broadcasting, pastor John writes most of the press releases, website and other communicational literature for the church. He introduces our Precious Word of Truth broadcast every Sunday on UCB and recently wrote and produced a new documentary about Whitwell entitled: “How shall they hear without a preacher.” Speaking of preaching, pastor John continues to preach occasionally at the Tabernacle and in many other churches around the province. He loves to visit and encourage the people of God and oversees our Senior Fellowship group which runs from April to December.
The pastoral visitation team at the Tabernacle extends beyond the pastoral staff at the Tabernacle. We have a number of Godly men who are retired yet continue to give of their time in order to help and encourage God's people
Eddie Wright was saved back in 1969 and for many years had a genuine ministry of healing while serving as a pastor during his time with Pastor Leslie Hale. Ordained at the Ulster Hall many years ago, Eddie still does the work of a visiting pastor, praying for the sick of the Metropolitan Tabernacle on a daily basis. A most gracious and sincere man, Eddie has become much loved by the people and staff at the Tabernacle; yet it was a chance encounter that brought him to the Metropolitan Church in the first place.
Attending a gospel rally held by Pastor McConnell, Eddie was persuaded by the pastor to come to the Tabernacle and help out, which at first he declined due to other commitments. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before he finally accepted and immediately his spiritual attributes were noticed and the rest is history. Now in his mid seventies, Eddie Wright is a wonderful witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.
To say that Charlie Purse is literally a ‘Whitewell legend’ is no understatement.
One of the original 10 people who founded the Church of God at Whitewell back in 1957, Charlie quickly became an elder and has served God faithfully in this post ever since. He is certainly a student of God’s Word and, similar to Alex Brown; he can also be truly regarded as a “mighty vessel of prayer.”
Charlie lets his ‘prayers take legs’ as C.H. Spurgeon once said, by visiting the sick at home and in hospital, something which he has been doing since 1984. He also holds the Adult Bible Class on Sunday afternoons. A stickler for Lord’s Day Observance, Charlie is part of the preparation team for this weekly ceremony. Now in his eighties, Charlie Purse is a clearly a picture of great health and runs about the sanctuary like a man half his age. He puts this down to a godly lifestyle and the strict adherence of God’s food laws, a subject which he regularly receives light-hearted banter about.
Charlie intends to open a new church book shop which he hopes will assist in the advancement of the Kingdom of God, while helping to support the church financially. A wonderful blessing to the fellowship, Charlie Purse is undoubtedly one of the true great servants of God of his generation.
Alex Brown first came to the Whitewell church back in 1979 and just one year later became a teacher at the Sunday School, eventually going on to become superintendent during 24 years of service. Known to his brethren as “Mr Faithful”, Alex is someone whom one could put the kettle on for”. He is both an elder and trustee at the Tabernacle and has literally become part of the furniture at our church.
Alex visits the sick on a daily basis and is justifiably regarded as a truly “great man of prayer”. A real blessing to this assembly, Alex has also faithfully attended the nine o’clock prayer meeting for many years and regularly contributes his gift of prayer at the Monday night prayer meeting at the Metropolitan Church. He is an outstanding example of Christian service to the young people at the Tabernacle.