Celebration Church founding pastor resigns amid legal battle

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – The founding pastor of Celebration Church, one of Jacksonville’s largest churches, announced Monday that he has resigned from his position amid a legal battle with church administrators.

Stovall Weems posted a letter on Instagram stating that the resignation was effective Friday, April 15.

He listed his positions as Senior Pastor, President and CEO, Chairman and Board Member, and CCJ (Celebration Church Jacksonville) Registered Agent.

RELATED: I-TEAM investigates legal dispute involving Celebration Church and founding pastors

“I spent a lot of time in prayer and got advice from other pastors here in the city, the region and around the world,” Weems said. “The actions of the trustees leave me and my family no choice but to legally separate from the CCJ and pursue our ministry elsewhere, placing ourselves under the proper responsibility and oversight of a board of pastors. apostolics and elders in our city, our nation, and the world who understand and model biblical governance.

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Weems said his resignation is “absolutely necessary” if he is to continue to honor the Lord and be true to what he believes.

“I will not and cannot be legally bound to a church in which the leadership abandons clear biblical principles and scriptural qualifications for spiritual cover, spiritual authority, and ecclesiastical governance and oversight,” Weems wrote.

Weems and his wife, Kerri, founded the church in Jacksonville in 1998 and it has grown to have multiple campuses in Florida and around the world. They filed an injunction suit against Celebration Church in late February. The injunction includes allegations of financial misconduct by a church administrator. He said the trustee was wrongly billing the church for construction-type services at its Honey Lake Farms property in Madison County and turned the other trustees against Stovall Weems, resulting in his suspension.

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The injunction says the trustee promised $1 million in in-kind construction services to the church’s mission at Honey Lake Farms, but began billing the church for a total of $700,000.

He also said that the administrator’s for-profit company charged the church money to rent the church box for a church-related event.

The News4JAX I-TEAM contacted this administrator for comment after the injunction was filed, but did not hear back.

MORE: ‘Your church is fine’: Celebration Church pastor reassures congregation amid legal dispute

Celebration Church responded to the injunction, saying it was “the latest chapter in a campaign of deception, manipulation, distraction and abuse of power by Stovall and Kerri Weems against Celebration”. Celebration’s petition also alleges that the couple improperly used more than $1,000,000 of PPP loan proceeds to fund an entity they managed and to purchase TurnCoin, a digital security.

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The church’s motion said the Weems over time acted as “they owned the church and could do with it as they pleased without the management and oversight required by Florida law and the governing documents of the church”.

Celebration Church said the Weems had “sought desperately” to avoid accountability and transparency.

Trustees analyzed the church’s “weakened financial condition” in December 2021 and discovered that the Weems had made several large financial transactions earlier in 2021 without notice or approval from the board, according to the church’s motion. . These included:

  • Several large transfers to new for-profit entities that the Weems intended to run in the future

  • 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 purchased 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, although neither Stovall nor Kerri Weems perform the duties of the offices that would have justified these salaries

  • Improper use of over $1,000,000 in PPP loan proceeds to fund Weems managed entity Honey Lake Farms, LLC and to purchase TurnCoin, an illiquid speculative digital currency

Celebration Church said none of these financial transactions were disclosed or authorized by the board, as required by the church’s bylaws.

MORE: I-TEAM: Celebration Church pastors deny misuse of PPP money

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The Weems deny the misuse of PPP money. A spokesperson for the couple released a lengthy statement to News4JAX I-TEAM:

“No P3 funds went to Honey Lake Farms, LLC. Honey Lake Farms, LLC (which is different from the non-profit Honey Lake Farms, Inc.) is a for-profit entity that was formed on the advice of Church lawyers at Holland and Knight. This is a non-operating entity to which no money has ever been transferred and, in fact, has never had a bank account. No PPP funds have used in the Turncoin investment The Church’s audited financial statements for 2020 certify that the Church used PPP funds in accordance with their legally authorized purposes The administration of the Church’s PPP funds was controlled by the CFOs of the Church.The 2021 PPP funds were entirely depleted by the Church’s payroll.Neither the PPP funds nor the Turncoin investment had anything to do with Pastor Stovall’s payday advance. Pastor Stovall has invested around $100,000 in Turncoin, an approved investment by the SEC, in an effort to create a retirement fund for longtime employees of Celebration Church. Currently, this investment is worth more than $1.5 million. Pastors Stovall and Kerri never intended to receive any money from this investment. Restricted use of these funds is documented with the Church’s Human Resources Department,” said Sara Brady, spokesperson for Stovall and Kerri Weems.

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Tim Timberlake, who was named senior pastor of Celebration Church in September 2021 to succeed Stovall Weems, admitted the matter in civil court during a Sunday service last month.

“I never could have imagined as me and Jen transitioned into leadership that things would turn out the way they did,” Timberlake told the congregation. “To be honest with you, it is the desire of our board and our church attorneys to keep these private matters that are now public. Not to hide anything, but simply because we care about the old rulers. Unfortunately, the other parties involved were unwilling to do these things.

Timberlake assured the congregation that he was not going anywhere and that the church was fine.

The Weems asked Celebration Church to produce documents, texts, notes, receipts, etc. in support of their claims. The church filed a reply motion, claiming the court lacked jurisdiction in the matter and asking for the complaint to be dismissed.

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A hearing in the case is scheduled for May 20. No charges have been filed against those involved.

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax – All Rights Reserved.

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