Evangelist Jasmin Sculark hired to lead Jericho City of Praise in Landover

Evangelist Jasmine Scurlark talks about her future plans after her first sermon at the Jericho City of Praise in Landover, Md. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Post)

The Jericho City of Praise in Landover is a multimillion-dollar campus complete with senior housing, a business park, a school, a drug treatment center and multiple parking lots leased by the Washington Redskins. In the church’s heyday, its co-founder, Apostle Betty Peebles, turned the vast sanctuary into a nationally renowned venue for religious and musical icons, such as Bishop T.D. Jakes and Patti LaBelle.

But after Peebles died in 2010, a dispute between her son, Joel Peebles, and members of the church’s board of trustees erupted over who would control the church’s direction. The fight over Betty Peebles’s legacy has been so bitter that it has spawned years of litigation and has split the church. Members who side with Joel Peebles — who number in the thousands — worship in auditoriums and sport arenas, while hundreds of members loyal to the board continue to worship in the Landover church.

But this Sunday, the doors of Jericho will open to a new leader, one who church leaders hope will attract new worshipers.

Jasmin Sculark, a barnstorming evangelist known as “The Daughter of Thunder,” has been hired as “pastor-select.” Church leaders said they hope a permanent pastor, who is known affectionately as “Dr. Jazz,” will help return the church to a premier place where top evangelists and gospel acts come to speak and sing. For the past several years, the church has been led by a series of guest pastors.

“The Jericho Board of trustees is exited about the future,” said Denise Killen, who chairs the church’s board. “Dr. Jazz’s presence is going to be a blessing to the Jericho family and the community. Our school is thriving and many programs are being planned for the future and all are welcomed to come.”

Sculark said she hoped to continue the church’s growth and develop a new course.

“I am going to build on the legacy of Apostle Betty Peebles,” Sculark said in a statement. “I am not coming to lay a foundation, I am coming to build upon a foundation that has already been laid. I am excited about what God wants to do with Jericho City of Praise and the people in the [Washington] area.

The hiring of Sculark comes more than two months after a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge ruled that the Landover church is rightfully controlled by a board of directors and not Joel Peebles. Peebles and a group of former church leaders had argued that the current board, which is made up of Betty Peebles’s personal secretary, building manager and closest advisers, improperly placed themselves in charge of the church after she died 31 / 2 years ago.

Judge Dwight Jackson’s ruling effectively allowed the new board to develop plans for the church’s future.

But Sculark’s appointment may only drive a deeper wedge between the two factions of the congregation. Those members who worship each Sunday with Joel Peebles maintain that they are the true keepers of Betty Peebles’ vision.

In response to Sculark’s hiring, Joel Peebles said in an interview: “I love her and everyone on that campus.” He added that no one outside his family could genuinely carry on his mother’s legacy. The church was co-founded by his father, Bishop James Peebles, with help from his brothers James and John. The church began in a cinderblock house in Northeast Washington and the family built it into one of the largest African American churches in the country.

“On Sunday, more than 12,000 members of the City of Praise will be worshiping at two locations and we will continue to love and reach out to the community,” Peebles said of his followers. “We are extremely excited about moving back to our Landover property in the very near future.”

Sculark is no stranger to the Washington area. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, she was licensed to preach Feb. 4, 1992, at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Washington. In the years that followed, she was a popular local speaker at venues around the region, including Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington and the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro.

“God miraculously dropped me into the heart of Jericho and I am grateful,” Sculark said.

Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.
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