The 12,000-member Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, continued its legal sparring with founding Pastor Stovall Weems and his wife, Kerri, in a new lawsuit earlier this month demanding that the couple vacate a million dollar waterfront home owned by the church after Weems completely resigned from all work with the church in April.
Church officials argued in a lawsuit filed on June 1 that on June 6, 2021, Weems purchased the disputed home located at 16073 Shellcracker Road on behalf of the church and Weems Group, LLC, which he managed himself. The purchase was made without authorization from the church’s board. Redfin reports that the home, which has an estimated value of $1,005,899, was last sold for $1,286,900
“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,” the lawsuit filed in Duval County Court says.
Celebration Church officials noted that they served notice on their founders on April 19, April 26 and May 16, asking them to vacate the home by May 31 so they can market and sell it. But the Weems have refused, claiming that the Parsonage Use License Agreement permits them to reside in the Shellcracker Road property until their deaths.
According to the church, that agreement only applied to a $1.5 million home located at 4504 Hunterston Lane, Jacksonville, Florida, 32224. The Weemses broke the agreement when they left the Hunterston Lane home and made the Shellcracker Road property their permanent residence, the church’s legal team said.
“The Weemses have no legal right to continue possessing or using the Shellcracker property. If they refuse to vacate the property by May 31, Celebration will be forced to have them removed by operation of law,” attorney Lee D. Wedekind III of the law firm Nelson Mullins wrote in a letter to the Weemses’ legal team.
The lawsuit further argues that The Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine doesn’t prevent the court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute “because the issues here do not involve matters of church government or discipline, and instead relate solely to neutral principles of law involving this property dispute that do not implicate any issues of doctrinal controversy.”
Weems announced in April that he had resigned from every role he had with the church but would continue to pursue legal action against the church’s board of trustees and officers.
In a Feb. 23 lawsuit, the Celebration Church founder claimed 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 Weemses’ 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.”
Celebration Church would later release an internal report that found 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.”