The Taipo Baptist Church apologised yesterday for having planned a fundraising event that would have cost participants an arm and a leg to dine with world-famous armless and legless preacher Nick Vujicic.
Vujicic, an Australian motivational speaker, had already declined to attend the dinner, which cost up to HK$10,000 a head, after furious local Christians signed an online petition alerting him to the sky-high charges inconsistent with their religious doctrines.
The church had planned the dinner as part of efforts to raise HK$300 million by next year for an expansion that would include a hall that could accommodate 1,500 people. It had planned to charge guests at three levels: HK$10,000 each for the most privileged "Grace" class, followed by the HK$15,000-a-table "Happiness" class and the HK$10,000-a-table "Peace" class.
With more than three-quarters of the fundraising period passed, the church has raised just a tenth of the target, while online users questioned whether the "costly" expansion was needed.
The date of the dinner was also subject to criticism - it was scheduled for June 4, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown that is commemorated annually by hundreds of thousands of people in Victoria Park.
In a statement on the church's website, Reverend Chu Wood-ping issued its "sincere apology for the damage done to the name of Christ". "It was inappropriate to combine the preaching event and the expansion fundraising, which blurred the nature and focus of the assembly, and risked distorting the intention of the Gospel," it read.
Stratifying ticket prices, the church said, was against its usual practice, because "preaching should be irrespective of classes and backgrounds". "We admit the event was not well planned, leading to suspicion that our work and service were inclined to commercialisation."
Confessing insensitivity, the church denied deliberately arranging the event on June 4, saying that Vujicic was busy on all other possible time slots.
Vujicic, who lives in Los Angeles, became a father two months ago with his son, Kiyoshi James, born to wife Kanae Miyahara.