Stovall Weems and his wife Kerri are positioning themselves for a “comeback” despite allegations they defrauded and spiritually abused their former church.
The Weemses were ousted earlier this year from Celebration Church, the Florida megachurch they founded. Now they are launching a new church, Awakening Ecclesia, and are planning to lead a tour of Israel next February, according to their new ministry website.
“We’re calling for 300 people, 300 people to join up as soon as possible and be part of this foundational launch team of Awakening Ecclesia,” Stovall Weems said in a sermon video posted Sunday titled “Are you ready for a comeback?”
He said in the same video that he’ll be hosting weekly Bible studies and other events live on social media.
A July 13 email indicates the Weemses went ahead with their new ministries based on counsel from a spiritual oversight team. Only one member of the spiritual oversight team is named—Raleigh Washington of The Road to Jerusalem, a reconciliation ministry focusing on unity between Christians and Messianic Jews.
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Washington is quoted as affirming the Weemses “are ready to move forward.”
The Weemses are involved in three ongoing lawsuits linked to their work with Celebration Church. The first is a suit they filed against the church. In the second lawsuit, a bank claims the couple defaulted on more than $700,000 in debt owed by church-related businesses they ran. In the third suit, the church is seeking to evict the Weemses from the church parsonage.
The website for Stovall Weems Ministries claims the couple’s legal dispute with Celebration Church “is playing itself out publicly . . . because we were defamed publicly on Celebration Church’s website, after we had already parted ways with the church we founded over two decades ago.”
The Weemses’ lawsuit “explains in detail how and why a so-called ‘investigative report’ posted on Celebration Church’s website is false and defamatory,” according to their website.
The Weemses first sued Celebration Church months before the release of the report they allege defamed them. They amended their suit in May, after the report’s release, to include the defamation claim.
TRR reached out to Stovall Weems Ministries ask for comment about the apparent discrepancy in their statement. Lisa Gunter, the ministry’s director of operations, responded with a link to an hour-and-a-half podcast episode she said contained the answers to TRR’s questions.
The Weemses say on their website that their reason for pursuing public legal action “is simple: our adversaries attacked us publicly . . . and should therefore have to answer publicly for the consequences of their actions.
“This is not a simple dispute between believers that ordinarily would be resolved as envisioned in 1 Corinthians 6,” they state on the website.
Celebration Church argues the court should dismiss the Weemses’ lawsuit in part because secular courts don’t have jurisdiction over church governance. The Weemses make the same argument—that the court can’t interfere in church matters—in asking the court to dismiss the church’s eviction suit against them.
The couple was suspended early this year from Celebration Church, a member of the Association of Related Churches (ARC) network. ARC is one of North America’s biggest church planting organizations, and is linked to other scandals involving money or sex. The Weemses used to be ARC Lead Team members.
The Weemses sued the church in February after they were suspended, The Roys Report reported previously. They alleged in the suit that they were whistleblowers facing retaliation from the church. The church responded in court filings alleging the couple was spiritually and financially abusive.
In April, Celebration Church released the findings of an independent investigation it had commissioned. The investigation found that Stovall Weems defrauded the church and “unjustly” enriched himself, TRR previously reported.
The Weemses formally resigned from Celebration Church in April shortly before the investigation’s findings were released.
Celebration Church gave the Weemses until May 30 to leave the church’s parsonage, TRR previously reported. Court filings show the Weemses haven’t left the parsonage and have refused to sit for depositions or produce evidence for their claims to the residence.
That parsonage’s purchase is itself one basis for Celebration Church’s claims that Weems enriched himself at the church’s expense, TRR previously reported.
Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.