City Harvest celebrates 25 years despite ongoing trial

City Harvest celebrates 25 years despite ongoing trial
City Harvest Church celebrates its 25th anniversary Silver Jubilee in the midst of an ongoing high-profile trial against Kong Hee and five other church leaders. (L-R) City Harvest Church Founder Kong Hee, his parents and his wife Ho Yeow Sun blow candles to celebrate the church's 25th anniversary during Sunday morning service at Suntec Convention centre on 27 July 2014.

There were plenty of tears as the mega-church at the heart of an ongoing high-profile trial against its leaders celebrated its 25th anniversary over the weekend.

City Harvest Church held its first public service at Peace Centre in 1989 with 135 people. It was called Ekklesia Ministry then.

Last year, it boasted a congregation of 18,192 here - though this was a drop from its peak of 33,000 before investigations started in 2010.

It now has 77 affiliated churches around the world, with members of 40 nationalities.

The silver jubilee bash, themed "Because Of You", was held over two 2½-hour services at Suntec City Convention Hall. They were attended by 18,360 people.

Ms Ho Yeow Sun, the church's executive director and wife of founder Kong Hee, sang. Longtime members gave personal testimonies of their relationship with the church.

In a 20-minute sermon on Sunday, Kong, 49, recounted key moments of the church's history, including disaster relief efforts following the 2004 tsunami, and the Crossover Project - fronted by Ms Ho - to evangelise to non-converts through secular pop music.

Slight mention was made of the ongoing trial against him and five deputies, accused of squirreling about $50 million of church Building Fund monies into alleged bogus deals, allegedly to bankroll Ms Ho's pop career.

The protracted trial will resume next Monday.

Ms Ho shared tearfully with members how "difficult" the past four years have been.

With faith, however, she declared, "our future may seem unknown, daunting and even a mystery, but it will be a glorious mystery". An emotional Kong also thanked his wife and team.

"This is not just my story. All this would not have happened without all my friends and my team," he said.

"I want to thank every one of you for making the 25 years so amazing. Especially for making the last four impossible years so possible for me, for Sun and the leadership."

This article was published on July 29 in The Straits Times.

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