Celebration Church report paints founders Stovall and Kerri Weems as abusive, mentally troubled
Pastor claims report is 'character assassination without real basis'
An internal report recently released by the 12,000-member Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, paints founding Pastor Stovall Weems and his wife, Kerri, as abusive, mentally troubled divas who constantly exploited church staff and finances until they were forced to resign from all their positions in the church earlier this month.
The Weemses and Celebration Church, which they founded in 1998, are currently locked in a legal battle seeking to settle dueling claims of financial fraud involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The single word used most frequently to describe Stovall Weems was ‘narcissist.’ Nearly every witness we interviewed used that specific word,” states the 22-page report produced by the Nelson Mullins law firm.
The law firm was retained to conduct an investigation after the church's board of trustees voted in January to suspend the Weemses over "questionable financial practices and other pastoral issues under the Weemses’ leadership."
According to the report, the Weemses’ leadership has been “inconsistent and unbiblical" since at least 2019. Investigators allege that Stovall Weems’ leadership was “marked by rampant spiritual and emotional abuse, including manipulation, a profound sense of self-importance and selfishness, superiority and entitlement, overbearing and unreasonable demands on employees’ time, a lack of accountability or humility, and demands of absolute loyalty.”
On behalf of Celebration Church, attorneys said they interviewed more than 20 current and former senior leadership members, staff, former trustees, other advisors and consultants. Some reflected trauma as they shared their experience working with the Weemses. The Weemses refused to be interviewed as part of the investigation, the report says.
In a statement to News4Jax, the Weems dismissed the report as “concocted.”
“This report is completely concocted by the Trustees and their lawyer as a character assassination without real basis. The ‘charges’ are as they always were – untrue and without a hard basis in fact, as a thoughtful investigation would show. Despite my numerous requests for the usual independent financial audit for 2021, as reflected in the board minutes, they have not done so, choosing instead to conduct their own misinformed ‘investigation’ over months without input from those most informed,” Weems' statement reads.
“How can they claim they conducted an investigation into improper financial transactions without a financial audit? If this is now a board-led church where is their responsibility for the Church’s dismal financial performance since I allowed them to take over with a new Lead Pastor at the beginning of 2020? And where is the oversight? As I have said all along, I have nothing to hide. That has not changed. I shall continue a righteous path with a new ministry despite these shameful efforts."
One employee cited in the report alleged that Weems once made them drive to a liquor store to get a bottle of bourbon for his house late at night because he “did not want to be seen purchasing liquor.” Another employee claimed Weems had them buy a car and deliver it to his house, but never offered the employee transportation back to their own home.
“After the employee delivered the car as demanded, Weems told him to find his own ride home,” the report states.
The Weemses allegedly reveled in the comfort of private charter flights to exotic locations, a full “house staff” and personal assistants to respond to their exacting demands. The report claims that the "Weemses’ compensation, staff, travel and expense accounts comprised approximately 10% of the Church’s total revenue."
“Despite these privileges, the Weemses treated people who attended to them as inferior,” the report says. “In 2020, Weems drafted a document that instructed the Weemses’ assistants on how they were to keep each of the three residences so the Weemses would not be bothered during their transitions between homes. This was so the Weemses could focus on their ‘spiritual acuity’ at all times.”
The report further claims that both Kerri and Stovall Weems began exhibiting mental instability following a Seder service on Passover in 2018, where Stovall Weems said he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
During the service, which The Christian Post previously reported, Weems told his congregation that he met Jesus Christ on Good Friday and was surprised by His personality.
"The first thing that I was taken back with is like Jesus' personality. This is how Jesus was when He was on the earth. I heard His voice ... the cadence of His voice. I can sense His mood. I can sense His presence, like He has a personality,” Weems said at the time. “I can't describe the closeness that I felt with Jesus. He didn't look at me. I never saw the front of his face. He was wearing a white garment. He had brown hair."
According to the report, Kerri Weems allegedly became suicidal after her husband’s personal encounter with Jesus, and the couple didn't take time off from ministry to address her struggle.
“Witnesses to the events at the Weems residence in the days following the Encounter describe Weems as visibly shaking and sobbing. They also confirmed that Kerri Weems was distraught and overwhelmed by her husband’s behavior,” the report reads. “Kerri Weems has a history of clinical depression, a topic which she openly discussed. People close with Kerri Weems stated that she expressed being suicidal as a result of the Encounter and Weems’ behavior following it. Despite repeated requests by many, the Weemses refused to take any meaningful time off after the Encounter to process the event.”
Investigators didn't take a position on whether Weems' claims of an encounter with Jesus were real, stating there is no way for them to "confirm or deny — legally or factually — what was going on inside Weems’ mind during that time."
"There is evidence that the Weemses were under a tremendous amount of
personal stress during this time that may have impacted Weems’ mindset that evening," the report says.
The church further detailed allegations of financial abuse previously alleged in a lawsuit earlier this year. The church’s filing contends that trustees analyzed the church’s financial position in December 2021 and discovered that the Weemses made “several large financial transactions earlier in 2021 without notice to or authorization from the board.”
These transactions included “multiple large transfers to new for-profit entities that the Weemses intended to manage going forward.” The motion claims that the church had purchased a parsonage for $1.2 million that a company owned by Stovall Weems had purchased four months earlier for $855,000.
Additionally, the board took issue with “the advancement of nine months’ salary to Kerri Weems and seven months’ salary to Stovall Weems," claiming they were in violation of Florida statute and church policies because "neither Stovall nor Kerri Weems perform[ed] the duties of the offices that purportedly justified those salaries.”
The couple was also accused of using $1 million worth of Paycheck Protection Program loan funds improperly to purchase a speculative digital currency known as TurnCoin.
Investigators for the church recommended seven actions against the Weemses. They include that the church "[a]ccept the resignation of Stovall and Kerri Weems as employees of Celebration effective April 15, 2022 without further compensation or benefits;" "pursue the removal of Stovall and Kerri Weems from any positions of authority relating to the church, Honey Lake Farms, Honey Lake Clinic and AWKNG;" and "require Stovall and Kerri Weems to account for and return to the church all funds misappropriated by them."