JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An investigative report made public by Celebration Church in Jacksonville suggests that blurred lines, intimidation and misuse of funds are at the root of the controversy surrounding the recent resignation of Celebration Church founder Stovall Weems
Weems announced his resignation from the Jacksonville megachurch over Instagram Monday night, posting a letter dated Friday that told the 12,000-member church’s board of trustees he was leaving immediately.
“I shall not and cannot be legally connected to any church in which the leadership abandons the clear biblical principles and scriptural qualifications” for governance and oversight, the letter said.
An investigative report prepared by Nelson Mullins, a U.S. law firm and lobby group hired by the church, was made public on the church's website days later.
The company says the report is the result of thousands of pages of documents and more than 20 interviews with current and former church leadership team members.
The company reportedly requested that Stovall and Kerri Weems be interviewed as well, but they refused.
Overall, the report states that Weems' engaged in a series of "improper and unauthorized" financial transactions through which they personally benefitted, either directly or indirectly, at the expense of the Church.
Nelson Mullins reported that the single word used most frequently to describe Stovall Weems was 'narcissist'.
The report from Nelson Mullins suggests that witnesses described many examples of overbearing demands on behalf of the Weems.
One witness allegedly reported that she had to beg for one hour per day, in which she was not required to immediately respond to text messages.
Another reported that Weems reportedly instructed an employee to drive to a liquor store late at night and deliver a bottle of bourbon to his house because he did not want to be seen purchasing liquor.
The report says as the Church became more successful, the lavishness of the Weemses’ lifestyle also increased.
The Weemses’ compensation, staff, travel and expense accounts comprised approximately 10% of the Church’s total revenue, the report claims.
Based on the findings of the investigation report, the Church’s attorneys recommended several action steps, all of which were approved by the Board during a meeting on April 24, 2022.
Those steps were to accept the resignation of the Weems as employees without further compensation, pursue the removal of the couple from any positions of authority relating to the Church, and to find and account for all "misappropriated funds". Read the full report here.
Weems and his wife, Kerri, have been locked in a court fight with the board of trustees over the trustees’ decision to suspend him because of suggestions of financial irregularities.
Back in February, the Stovall Weems filed a lawsuit against the church, claiming that when he tried to expose financial misappropriations by church trustee, Kevin Cormier, that Cormier “began feeding the other trustees and senior church members lies and misinformation.”
The lawsuit claims that Stovall Weems attempted to confront Cormier about both the financial inaccuracies and "the lies" he was reportedly telling, but it had no effect on Cormier.
The lawsuit says that Stovall Weems removed Cormier as a church trustee for this reason. Because of this, the lawsuit claims that Trustees with the church sought to unseat Stovall Weems from his role as Senior Pastor as retaliation.
A hearing on the Weemses’ lawsuit is scheduled for May 20, according to the Florida Times-Union.
The initial resignation letter says that the family would “continue our ministry elsewhere, placing ourselves under the proper accountability and oversight of a council of apostolic pastors and elders in our city.”
On Instagram, Weems posted a note from himself and his wife telling followers, “we love you and miss you very much."
“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,” said the message. “…Keep watching this space because in the coming days we will begin announcing details about what ‘the new’ looks like for us.”