Celebration Church releases findings of explosive investigation into founding pastor

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida. —Celebration Church, one of the largest churches in the Jacksonville area, released the results of an internal investigation Monday into its founding pastor, Stovall Weems.

The church and Weems have been in a civil court battle that includes allegations of financial misconduct and fraud.

“The single word used most frequently to describe Stovall Weems was ‘narcissistic’. Almost all of the witnesses we interviewed used this specific word,” the report said.

The church said it interviewed more than 20 current and former members of senior management, staff, former directors, other advisers and consultants.

“Numerous witnesses detailed, often through tears, instances where Weems personally belittled and humiliated them for minor errors or inconsistent and confusing directions from Weems,” the report said.

The church said a witness detailed, often through tears, instances where Weems personally belittled and humiliated them for minor mistakes or misunderstanding Weems’ “inconsistent and confusing directions.”

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Another reported that Weems asked an employee to come to a liquor store late at night and deliver a bottle of bourbon to his house because he “didn’t want to be seen buying bourbon. ‘alcohol”.

Another said an employee was instructed to buy a car for Weems and deliver it to his home. “After the employee delivered the car as requested, Weems told him to find his own transportation,” the report said.

The inquest found that many witnesses described “intense personal anguish and pain caused by working for the Weems”.

LINK: Full investigation report at Celebration Church

Lavish lifestyle

The survey determined that as the church became more prosperous, “the lavishness of the Weems’ lifestyle also increased.” He said there were private charter flights to exotic destinations, full “house staff” to help maintain their mansions, and personal assistants needed to attend to any Weems’ requests.

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The report said the Weems’ compensation, personnel, travel and expense accounts made up about 10% of the church’s total revenue.

“Despite these privileges, the Weems treated the people who cared for them as inferior,” the report said. “In 2020, Weems drafted a document that instructed the Weems’ assistants on how they were to guard each of the three residences so that the Weems were not disturbed as they transitioned between houses. This was so that the Weems could focus on their “spiritual acumen” at all times.

The report says the Weems have also posted their required catering service hours so their employees know how to serve them food and drink.

“These instructions included specifications of the times of day the items were to be supplied, the exact requirements for each item, and a description of how the items were to be presented to Weems (on “real food” presented on a ” serving tray). These instructions — similar to the exaggerated green room runners required by celebrities — reflected the Weems’ immense entitlement and personal importance,” the report said.

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Turning point after the 2018 meeting

The church said things changed following a Passover Seder service in 2018, where Stovall Weems said he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

“Witnesses to the events at the Weems residence in the days following the Encounter describe Weems as visibly shaking and sobbing. They also confirmed that Kerri Weems was distraught and overwhelmed by her husband’s behavior,” the report said. “Kerri Weems has a history of clinical depression, a subject she has openly discussed. People close to Kerri Weems say she said she was suicidal following the encounter and Weems’ behavior after it. Despite to repeated requests from many, the Weems refused to take meaningful post-match time off to process the event.

The report says that over time, Weems used the encounter to vindicate his authority and maintain control of the church.

“If questioned, Weems would respond by saying that this direction was given to him by God through the Encounter,” the inquest report said.

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The report says that for months after the 2018 encounter, Weems struggled to form words or communicate effectively. He said he had disengaged from business meetings with staff and cried frequently. The report says Weems began making odd comments about sweeping changes he was considering for the church’s ministry.

“At one point he suggested that the Church should learn to operate without any buildings,” the report said.

The church’s investigation found that during this time, Weems appeared to be physically and mentally ill. Members of the leadership team were so concerned that they called a meeting to confront him about his mental health and the impact it was having on the church’s ability to function effectively, according to the report.

The report says the reunion went well initially but ultimately had no lasting impact and Weems “kept going in circles.”

“Complete disruption” during the pandemic

The investigation found that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused “complete disruption” to church operations.

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He said the disruption was further complicated by Weems’ plan to “separate the business from the church” by splitting up several ministries as stand-alone corporate entities.

“Friction between Weems and the board has increased. While church revenues were 15% lower than expected, Weems advocated for the Board to approve $14 million in new debt,” according to the report. “When the administrators asked him about the details of his plan … Weems responded with frustration and outrage.”

The report says that when the administrators asked for a five-minute break to ease the tension, the Weems walked out.

Church finances plummeted

The report states that the church’s cash balance fell from $9 million in October 2020 to $6 million in December 2020 to $2 million in March/April 2021.

“Weems never understood where the money was going and oscillated between careless attention to financial detail and aggressive demands for voluminous information,” the report said.

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The investigation found that Weems could “never keep all the straight parts in his head and blamed this confusion on the information providers”.

Allegations of embezzlement of federal funds

In 2020, the church applied for and was granted a loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The first loan was for $2.2 million and was used to pay staff salaries. The report indicates that the loan money was properly used and documented.

The investigation revealed that the second PPP loan the church received was not used for authorized expenditures.

He said Weems ordered the funds to be spent on the following:

  • $100,000 to invest in TurnCoin, a digital currency with which fans can “invest in talented people in all of life’s passions”, on behalf of the church

  • $856,033.33 transferred to Honey Lake Farms First Citizen Missions Account. $150,000 was used to buy TurnCoin on behalf of Honey Lake Farms and $150,000 was used to buy TurnCoin on behalf of AWKNG.

  • $100,000 transferred to the church’s missions account to cover a transfer of $100,000 to an unrelated church ministry in Nevada.

The report states that a total of $500,000 of PPP loan proceeds were used to purchase TurnCoin without notice or board approval.

The News4JAX I-TEAM has reached out to a spokesperson for a statement. We received a statement from Pastor Stovall Weems which reads:

“This report is completely concocted by the trustees and their lawyer as a personality attack without any real basis. The “accusations” are as they always have been – false and without solid foundation in fact, as a thorough investigation would show. Despite my numerous requests for the usual independent financial audit for 2021, as evidenced by the board minutes, they did not, choosing instead to conduct their own ill-informed “investigation” for months without the input from the most knowledgeable people. How can they claim that they investigated improper financial transactions without a financial audit? If it is now a board-run church, where is their responsibility for the dismal financial performance of the church since I allowed them to take over with a new senior pastor in early 2020? And where is the surveillance? As I’ve always said, I have nothing to hide. That hasn’t changed. I will continue a straight path with a new ministry despite these shameful efforts.

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Weems resigned as senior pastor of Celebration Church on April 15. Celebration Church said it plans to turn its investigation over to authorities to see if criminal charges are warranted.

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax – All Rights Reserved.

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