JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The senior pastor of Celebration Church, one of the largest churches in Jacksonville, took a moment during Sunday morning service to address a legal dispute between the church and its founding pastors.
Tim Timberlake, who was installed as Celebration Church’s senior pastor in September 2021 to succeed Stovall Weems, acknowledged the civil court case that involves allegations of financial misconduct and fraud.
“I could have never imagined as we transitioned, me and Jen, into leadership that things would unfold the way that they have,” said Timberlake to the congregation. “To be honest with you, it’s our board of trustees and our church’s attorneys’ desire to keep those matters private that are now public. Not to hide anything, but just because we care about the former leaders. Unfortunately, other parties involved did not desire to do those things.”
Stovall and Kerri Weems, who founded Celebration Church in 1998, filed a lawsuit for injunctive relief against the church in late February. The injunction said a Celebration Church trustee was improperly billing the church for construction-type services at its Honey Lake Farms property in Madison County and turned the other trustees against Stovall Weems, leading to his suspension.
The Weemses said they’ve been threatened with arrest if they enter church property.
Celebration Church filed a motion to dismiss the injunction. The motion said this is the “latest chapter in a campaign of deception, manipulation, distraction, and abuse of power by Stovall and Kerri Weems against Celebration.”
Celebration Church’s motion said the trustees requested an investigation into the founding pastors when they discovered the Weemses “engaged in a series of questionable financial transactions without board knowledge or authorization” in early 2021.
Timberlake said because this legal dispute is now public, he wanted to address a few things to the congregation.
“The first one is this: Your church is OK. Your church is OK,” said Timberlake. “I don’t like seeing Celebration Church in the news, on the front of the paper, and although I love our local news and I’m grateful for every anchor that calls Celebration Church home, I don’t like seeing that.”
Timberlake said the church’s bylaws and board of trustees are put into place “for times and seasons as this, to protect the church” and the board and church’s attorneys are handling this serious matter.
“The second thing I want you to know is me and Jen aren’t going anywhere,” Timberlake said. “We are here to weather this storm with you, baby. It’s our desire to continue to shepherd, to continue to lead with integrity, godly character, love, honor and excellence.”
Timberlake said in his 18 years in leadership he’s learned “adversity always comes before advancement.”
“Listen to me, I believe we’re stepping into the greatest days this church has ever seen,” said Timberlake on Sunday. “The adversity we’re seeing right now should come as no surprise. I believe there are still souls that need to be saved. I believe there are marriages that need to be restored. I believe there are families that need to be mended. I believe we still got work to do, amen?”
Celebration’s motion to dismiss the injunction outlines four areas of concern:
- Multiple large transfers to new for-profit entities that the Weemses intended to manage going forward
- Church’s purchase of a parsonage (in which Stovall and Kerri Weems were to live rent-free) for $1,286,863.30 that a company solely owned by Stovall Weems had bought four months earlier for $855,000
- Advancement of nine months’ salary to Kerri Weems and seven months’ salary to Stovall Weems in violation of Florida statute and the church’s own internal policies, despite neither Stovall nor Kerri Weems performing the duties of the offices that purportedly justified those salaries
- Improper use of over $1,000,000 in PPP loan proceeds to fund the Weems-managed entity Honey Lake Farms, LLC and to purchase TurnCoin, an illiquid, speculative digital currency
The Weemses deny misuse of PPP money. A spokesperson for the couple released a lengthy statement to the News4JAX I-TEAM on Thursday: “No PPP funds went to Honey Lake Farms, LLC. Honey Lake Farms, LLC (which is different than the non-profit Honey Lake Farms, Inc.) is a for profit entity that was formed on the advice of the Church’s attorneys at Holland and Knight. It is a non-operational entity to which no money was ever transferred and in fact, has never had a bank account.
No PPP funds were utilized in the Turncoin investment. The Church’s 2020 audited financials certifies that the Church utilized the PPP funds in accordance with their legally allowed purposes. Administration of the Church’s PPP funds was controlled by the Church’s CFOs. The 2021 PPP funds were completely used up by the Church’s payroll. Neither the PPP funds nor the Turncoin investment also had anything to do with Pastor Stovall’s salary advance.
Pastor Stovall invested approximately $100,000 in Turncoin, an SEC approved investment, for the purpose of creating a retirement fund for long-time Celebration Church employees. Currently, that investment is worth more than $1.5 million. Pastors Stovall and Kerri never intended to receive any money from this investment. The restricted usage of these funds is documented with the Church’s Human Resources department,” said Sara Brady, spokesperson for Stovall and Kerri Weems
The News4JAX I-TEAM also received a statement Thursday from an attorney for Celebration Church:
“Celebration did not bring this lawsuit and does not intend to litigate it through the media. The church’s investigation has uncovered ample documentation to support the positions in its motion to dismiss, and Celebration remains confident that the truth will ultimately prevail,” said Lee Wedekind, attorney for Celebration Church.
No criminal charges have been filed in this case. A civil court hearing is scheduled for May 20.