‘I want to clear my name’: Embattled former pastor of Jacksonville megachurch sits down with I-TEAM

Legal battle between Stovall and Kerri Weems and Celebration Church continues

The News4JAX I-TEAM on Tuesday sat down with the embattled former pastor of a Jacksonville megachurch. It’s Stovall Weems’ first extended TV interview since his ongoing legal battle with Celebration Church began last year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM on Tuesday sat down with the embattled former pastor of a Jacksonville megachurch.

It’s Stovall Weems’ first extended TV interview since his ongoing legal battle with Celebration Church began last year.

“I want to clear my name, and I want to restore dignity to my wife and my kids,” Weems said during the wide-ranging interview that lasted two hours.

Weems and his wife, Kerri, founded Celebration Church more than 20 years ago, but in early 2022, the Weemses were suspended from their positions with the church amid questions about finances and other church concerns. The church hired law firm Nelson Mullins to do an investigation, which resulted in an explosive report detailing allegations of financial misconduct and emotional abuse.

Weems has denied the allegations against him.

The church is also suing to evict the Weemses from their home, which is owned by the church.

As a legal battle that started nearly a year ago continues, Weems and his wife are striking back against the church. In a court filing from last week, the Weemses claim a member of the church’s board of trustees led a “coup” to oust the pastor after Weems said he discovered that member was involved in financial misconduct.

“Where’s the proof?” News4JAX I-TEAM asked Weems during Tuesday’s interview.

“I have the proof,” he said.

“Can you provide it?” News4JAX asked.

“Yeah, but let me let me finish because the sad thing about this is, you know, how many people have seen the proof,” Weems said.

He said he needs to get permission from his attorney before releasing it. The church has previously denied the claims that a trustee was involved in financial misconduct.

Weems alleges the church reneged on plans to provide $48 million to his nonprofit over 15 years, cutting it down by half and then cutting Weems out of the church.

“It took me 23 years to build these things. I think about this. It’s, like, this, how does this happen? Let me ask you a question. How does this happen? How does a man and his wife that have built and founded an organization in a city they have plenary power according to the bylaws—it means basically that I have the authority. I have all authority, and I have two checks and balances. I have the trustees, and I have my overseers,” Weems said.

According to the church, the overseers have authority over the senior pastor for spiritual and disciplinary matters. Weems later explained how the overseers are chosen.

“They’re nominated by me...and approved by the trustees,” Weems said.

News4JAX said, “So the trustees are chosen how?”

“Nominated by me,” Weems responded.

News4JAX said, “So do you see how that might not be a lot of oversight?”

“No, you know, what I see? ... Thank God that I did that for 23 years, or maybe this kind of coup would’ve happen earlier,” Weems said.

A report commissioned by the church examined financial transactions, as well as the pastor’s leadership.

“In that report, they claim they interviewed more than 20 people. It says the single word most frequently used to describe Stovall Weems was a narcissist. What’s the response to that?” News4JAX asked.

Weems said, “Do narcissists give away 90% of their power and authority and resources?”

The report also states, “Many witnesses detailed, often through tears, instances when Weems personally belittled and humiliated them for minor mistakes or misunderstanding Weems’ inconsistent and confusing directives.”

“If someone feels like that, I have done that to him, please give me the dignity of saying that I’m sorry and repenting to you,” Weems said.

News4JAX asked, “The report claims that as the church became more successful, you live a lavish lifestyle with private charter flights to exotic vacations Is that true?”

“Lie,” Weems said.

But he did concede he traveled on chartered flights for hunting trips with donors and took his family on vacation on a propeller plane.

“It was one of those types of planes where, with our kids, where it was one of those props that would have been the same price as a first-class ticket,” Weems said.

Weems is defiant in the face of the allegations against him, saying he wants accountability in a trial by a jury.

In a statement Tuesday, Celebration Church said, “We are confident the legal system will produce the correct result. Our main focus is advancing the kingdom of God and moving His church forward.”

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter