City Harvest Church returns to Suntec premises after revamp

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee preached to crowds at the weekend as his embattled organisation moved back into its Suntec premises following a year-long revamp.

Worshippers packed the 7,305-seat auditorium as Kong - who is at the centre of a major corruption probe - gave a sermon titled A House On Fire.

"We're not building buildings but building people," he told the congregation during the 21/2-hour service last Saturday.

The church's return to the Suntec Singapore convention centre - which it part-owns - means it finally has a permanent home after 25 unsuccessful attempts to secure a new set of premises.

It also follows a turbulent year in which six of its leaders - including Kong, 49 - were charged with misusing church funds to further the pop career of his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, 43.

Ms Ho told The Straits Times she was pleased with the Suntec venue, saying: "Nothing good ever gets achieved without a certain measure of pain and struggle."

City Harvest's search for a new home began in 2005 after its base in Jurong West proved too small for its burgeoning congregation, which now stands at more than 19,800.

But the 25 other sites it tried - including the Lion City Hotel in Tanjong Katong - were either too small or too prone to traffic congestion.

In March 2010, it invested $310 million to become a co-owner of Suntec Singapore.

At first, the church wanted to hold services at a 12,000-seat auditorium there.

But its plans were scrapped when the Urban Redevelopment Authority issued guidelines saying that commercial properties could not use more than 10,000 sq m of space for religious purposes.

The church then settled for a smaller auditorium which has more than 7,000 seats.

But it had to move out last August as the convention centre carried out a major revamp. It finally re-opened over the weekend.

Bank officer and long-time congregation member Keith Lim, 41, said the church's Suntec home was "a central location and a beautiful venue".

City Harvest has spent about $2.6 million renovating the premises.

The revamp includes a new stage, a radio DJ booth, a Christian bookstore and even an indoor playground with bouncy castles.

MELODY ZACCHEUS