JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This story was originally reported by the Florida Times-Union.
Jacksonville’s Celebration Church has gone to court to evict estranged founders Stovall and Kerri Weems from the high-end home they occupied as the church parsonage.
“The Weemses remain in possession of the … property despite Stovall Weems’ resignation of employment, the Weemses’ refusal to pay rent and the church’s demands that the Weemses vacate the premises,” says a lawsuit filed last week in Duval County Court.
The suit demands that the couple leave the home and pay rent for the time they’ve lived there since Stovall Weems resigned from the megachurch April 15.
There’s no dollar amount specified, but the suit says the church is due the amount that would be charged at a comparable home.
The lawsuit is separate from one the Weemses filed in February over the founding pastor’s suspension from his job, which was rewritten last month to be a defamation suit that challenged a report by church lawyers arguing Stovall Weems had been “committing fraud, [and] unjustly enriching himself at the expense of the church.”
Although church lawyers months ago asked a judge to dismiss the original suit because it involved church governance, the eviction case argues that reasoning “does not apply to prevent this court from exercising … jurisdiction over this dispute,” which is about ordinary real estate issues.
The pastor and his wife founded Celebration in 1998 and in April the church claimed 3,745 active members. The Weemses’ suit in February referenced about 12,000 people attending services at the church’s multiple campuses.
Stovall Weems was suspended from his leadership role in the church in January and told supporters in April he would be pursuing his ministry separate from the church.
The Weemses had been living in a house on Black Hammock Island that church lawyers said Stovall Weems bought for $1.3 million last year without telling church trustees. When he quit, the church said the couple had to be out of the house by May 30.
A May 16 letter from church lawyers to the Weemses’ lawyers, which is attached to the eviction suit, indicates the couple’s counsel had argued that an earlier agreement with the church had given them a lifetime right to occupy the home. But the letter, written by church lawyer Lee D. Wedekind III, said that agreement only applied to a house in the Glen Kernan area near Butler Boulevard where the couple lived previously.
That agreement expired when the couple moved, Wedekind argued, and “the Weemses have no legal right to continue possessing or using the ... property.”