JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The former pastors of one of Jacksonville’s largest churches settled a lawsuit with First Citizens Bank over a $716,123 debt they and their businesses owed.
The bank filed the suit against Stovall and Kerri Weems in May 2022. Its court filing at the time said the “defendants have failed, neglected and refused to pay” the plaintiff.
Each party reached an “amicable settlement with each party bearing their own fees and costs” and the bank filed a court motion in December 2022 to dismiss the case. It’s officially closed in the Duval County Clerk of Court system.
First Citizens Bank & Trust filed the suit against the Weemses and their businesses — Honey Lake Farms Inc., Weems Group LLC and Northstream Management LLC.
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Celebration Church was not involved in the bank lawsuit.
Defamation & eviction cases
There are still two open cases in the court system involving Celebration Church and the Weemses.
Stovall and Kerri Weems, who founded the church in 1998, filed a defamation suit against the church in 2022 after it hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation and publicly released the findings. The Weemses said the church trustees staged a “nefarious coup” to push them out and the investigative report included false allegations of fraud and financial misconduct.
The investigative report accuses Stovall Weems of misusing government PPP money, which was designed for COVID-19 relief. Weems has repeatedly denied that allegation and has encouraged a financial audit.
The report also outlines allegations of “narcissistic behavior” and spiritual and emotional abuse of church staff.
There’s been a back-and-forth in the court system over that defamation suit, and a court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24. The church’s attorneys have asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying the court lacks jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters. The Weemses asked the court for a jury trial.
The second open case involving Celebration Church and the Weemses pertains to the home where they reside. The church has been trying to evict the former pastors because they are no longer affiliated with Celebration.
The Weemses argue the home was part of a compensation and retirement package and they shouldn’t have to leave.
Celebration Church filed a motion on Jan. 2 to compel the Weemses to appear for their depositions in the eviction case.
It said twice already, the Weemses have “avoided their noticed depositions on the eves of those depositions.” The court filing also said the Weemses’ attorneys have “refused to respond” to the repeated request for new deposition dates.
A court hearing on the eviction case is scheduled for Jan. 23.
Stovall Weems Ministries
Stovall Weems was suspended from Celebration Church months before his official resignation in April 2022. Since then, he’s launched Stovall Weems Ministries.
Weems wrote in his new ministry’s newsletter that some people have asked why they are proceeding through the courts to resolve this dispute.
“One reason is simple: our adversaries attacked us publicly by falsely accusing us of violating secular laws and should therefore have to answer publicly for the consequences of their actions. This is not a simple dispute between believers that ordinarily would be resolved as envisioned in 1 Corinthians 6,” the newsletter reads. “One would think that after posting such serious accusations about us on it’s (sic) website, Celebration Church would be eager to back them up publicly as well. However, it does not want the truth tested in the light and, despite casting the first stone, is fighting in court to keep the truth hidden behind the secrecy of ecclesiastical arbitration. Hopefully, you can see why we believe this legal maneuvering is unfair and unjust.”
Celebration Church has been under the leadership of senior pastor Tim Timberlake since September 2021.
The church released this statement to the News4JAX I-TEAM in March 2022: