There was a rousing cheer as City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee walked onstage yesterday at the packed Suntec convention centre auditorium.
But as he addressed the congregation that had gathered for the 5pm service, the crowd numbering in the thousands grew quiet.
"I'm so sorry for all the hurt, all the disappointment and all the painful ordeals you've been through," he said in a shaky voice.
"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 also thanked them for being members of the church at the first service held a day after the High Court reduced the sentences of all six church leaders, including Kong, in the biggest case of misuse of charity funds in Singapore history.
Executive pastor and president of the CHC management board Aries Zulkarnain later took to the stage to lead the church in prayer, together with Kong and his wife Ho Yeow Sun.
Nearing the end of the two-hour service, Kong returned onstage, saying he had learnt "many lessons through this entire ordeal".
In the midst of the church's quick growth, he admitted, he had not "slowed down, paused and prayed more" and made "unwise decisions" in the process.
In November 2015, Kong and five CHC leaders were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years. The prosecution and all six later launched appeals.
Following the High Court's decision, a spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) told The Sunday Times it will resume removal proceedings to protect the assets of the charity.
COC had previously said seven individuals involved will be banned from being a governing board member, key officer, trustee, agent or employee of CHC. Kong can continue with his religious duty as a pastor.
Many in the congregation declined to speak to The Sunday Times.
Yesterday, 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."