JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The pastor who founded one of Jacksonville’s largest churches and resigned amid a bitter legal battle has announced his future ministry plans.
Stovall Weems Ministries sent out its first newsletter to supporters on Wednesday. It also addressed the ongoing legal case between Celebration Church and its founders, Stovall and Kerri Weems.
“2022 has been by far the most difficult and darkest season of our lives. I’ve learned some extremely painful, however deeply valuable lessons, about myself, about trusting God and his purposes, and about others,” the newsletter reads. “I want you to know that Kerri and I are operating under spiritual oversight and we are now pressing ‘... on towards the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Messiah Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:14)”
Stovall Weems announced his first online ministry events will be at 7 p.m. Monday, July 25, and at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1. He said that he will answer questions and that people will have the opportunity to get involved with different ministry teams.
Stovall Weems also addressed the ongoing litigation with Celebration Church. Earlier this year, the Weemses filed an injunction against Celebration, alleging a church trustee was improperly billing the church for construction-type services. They said that the trustee turned the others against them and set the stage for a “nefarious coup” to push the Weemses out.
Celebration Church hired a law firm to do an internal investigation. It spoke with more than 20 current and former senior leadership members, staff, former trustees and other advisors. It released its report in April, detailing allegations of financial misconduct, spiritual and emotional abuse, and narcissistic behavior.
The report alleges Stovall Weems misused government Paycheck Protection Program money, which was designed for COVID-19 relief. Stovall Weems has repeatedly denied all the allegations against him and has since filed a defamation lawsuit against Celebration Church.
Stovall Weems wrote in his 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.
“We anticipate that the legal battle over Celebration Church’s attempt to force our claims to be arbitrated in secrecy will be long, drawn out, and possibly involve appeals. However, we will not waiver in our commitment to the truth and justice, and we have faith that we will eventually be able to make our accusers stand trial to answer for their actions.”
The Stovall Weems Ministries newsletter also details plans for a trip to the Holy Land in early 2023. It also announced Stovall Weems will release weekly podcasts featuring interviews and discussions with pastors and special guests from around the world.
The newsletter said many people have indicated they would like to partner with the Weemses financially by giving their tithes and offerings. It included a link for people to give online.
Stovall Weems Ministries said its CFO, Connie Mussels Jerozal, has 30 years of professional audit and business experience and will insure the Weemses are kept well informed on a regular basis.
Other cases in court system
There are two other cases involving the Weemses that are making their way through the Duval County court system.
Celebration Church filed an eviction order to get the Weemses out of the home they live in on Shellcracker Road in Black Hammock Island. Stovall Weems sold that home to Celebration Church last summer. Celebration Church said that since he resigned his church positions, he does not have authority to live at that property anymore but “refuses to vacate.”
The defamation suit said Stovall Weems, church trustees and the church attorney began putting a retirement package together for him, and as part of that, the property was going to be given to Celebration Global, Stovall Weems’ missional nonprofit, as a gift.
“This was very clear, in writing, and was agreed upon by all parties,” Stovall Weems’ defamation suit said. The suit said the church’s internal investigative report omitted a lot of these details.
The third court case involves First Citizens Bank, which is suing the Weemses over a $716,123 debt.
The 71-page filing said Stovall and Kerri Weems and their businesses have defaulted on payments.
The filing lists the Weemses, Honey Lake Farms Inc., Weems Group LLC and Northstream Management LLC as defendants.
Celebration Church is currently under the leadership of Pastor Tim Timberlake. He was tapped to succeed Stovall Weems last year, so Stovall Weems could focus on missions and other initiatives. The church issued a statement to the News4JAX I-TEAM in late May that said it is excited about the future and will continue to move forward.