Nearly two months after filing a lawsuit over who controls the 12,000-member Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, founding pastor Stovall Weems announced Monday that he has resigned from every role he had with the church but will continue to pursue legal action against the church’s board of trustees and officers.
In a letter shared on Instagram with his nearly 14,000 followers, Weems, who founded the church in 1998, said he was resigning from his roles as senior pastor, president and CEO, chair and member of the board of trustees, as well as a registered agent of Celebration Church Jacksonville.
“I have spent much time in prayer and received counsel from other pastors here in the city, the region, and around the world,” Weems wrote. “The Trustees’ actions leave me and my family with no choice but to legally separate from CCJ and continue our ministry elsewhere, placing ourselves under the proper accountability and oversight of a council of apostolic pastors and elders in our city, nation, and world that understand and model biblical governance.”
In the Feb. 23 lawsuit filed by Stovall and Kerri Weems, the former pastor claims he was illegally ousted from his role as senior pastor by the church’s board of trustees earlier this year when he tried to address financial abuse involving one of the trustees.
The church, in turn, filed a motion to dismiss the Weems’ lawsuit on March 10. The church claims the lawsuit is “the latest chapter in a campaign of deception, manipulation, distraction, and abuse of power by Stovall and Kerri Weems against Celebration.”
“Having founded Celebration, the Weemses over time came to act like they owned the church and could do with it what they wanted without the management and oversight required by Florida law and the church’s governing documents,” the church’s filing said. “When the current board of trustees discovered that the Weemses had engaged in a series of questionable financial transactions without board knowledge or authorization, they requested an investigation.”
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" in violation of Florida statute and church policies “despite neither Stovall nor Kerri Weems performing 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.
In a statement to News4JAX, Sara Brady, a spokesperson for the Weemses, denied any wrongdoing.
“No PPP funds were utilized in the Turn[C]oin 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,” Brady said.
“Neither the PPP funds nor the Turn[C]oin investment also had anything to do with Pastor Stovall’s salary advance. Pastor Stovall invested approximately $100,000 in Turn[C]oin, an SEC approved investment, for the purpose of creating a retirement fund for long-time Celebration Church employees,” she added.
“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.”
In their farewell message to the church now led by Pastor Tim Timberlake, the Weemses expressed love for the members of the church they founded and said they plan to continue working in Jacksonville.
“We look forward to seeing many of you since we will remain in Jacksonville where we will continue to pastor, preach and minister God’s Word. We are excited about all that is to come for THE CHURCH (Big C) in our city, region and around the world!” they said. “Keep watching this space because in the coming days we will begin announcing details about what ‘the new’ looks like for us. We can’t wait to see you and we look forward to continuing the work of the Kingdom alongside you!”