SINGAPORE - Standing alone on stage and facing a packed auditorium, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee said on Saturday (April 8) that he was "deeply sorry" to the congregation for the pain and disappointment they had to go through.
With his voice shaking slightly, he asked those present at the church's first English weekend service, held just a day after he was handed a reduced jail term of three years and six months, for forgiveness.
"I've so much to say but if I can sum it up in one sentence, pastor wants to say: I'm so sorry for all the hurt, all the disappointment and all the painful ordeals you've been through," he said, as the mood in the Suntec convention centre auditorium turned solemn.
"I really, really, really wish that I was and am a better, wiser, leader. Pastor is deeply sorry and sincerely asks for your forgiveness. Please forgive me," he added.
He noted that the past seven years has been a "challenging time for all of us", before thanking the church for their prayer and support for him and his family.
"It has been a privilege to be your pastor. For many of you, I have pastored you since the day of your youth. It's been the greatest privilege of my life. That's all I have to say," he added.
Kong took to the stage at about 5.45pm, with the congregation in rousing cheer.
Moments later, he was joined on stage by his wife and fellow church pastor, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and 10 other church leaders as they led the church in prayer and songs of worship.
Executive pastor and president of the CHC management board Aries Zulkarnain also addressed the congregation before Kong spoke.
He said the judges agreed with the state court findings that the six are guilty of the charges, and he is "saddened" by this.
However, as the leaders were given sentences that were shorter than the original ones, they were "grateful to God" for that merciful decision, he said.
Nearing the end of the two-hour service, Kong returned onstage, explaining that he felt “unease”.
He said: “I felt that if this is the last chance I can address you for a season of time, then why don’t I just share what I’ve prepared all along,” he said, adding that he had learnt “many lessons through this entire ordeal”.
In the midst of the church’s quick growth, he admitted that he had not “slowed down, paused and prayed more” and made “unwise decisions” in the process.
Apologising once more, he said beyond the “painful verdict”, he has confidence in CHC’s new leadership, which has put in place good corporate governance.
In November 2015, Kong and five CHC leaders were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years, in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore history. The prosecution and all six later launched appeals.
On Saturday, Kong promised the congregation that “whatever happened in the past will never repeat itself in the future”.
“We must never let it happen again,” he said. “It was a steep learning curve for all of us.”