Ousted megachurch pastor proclaims the launch of a new church and ministries

August 3, 2012

This spring, the board of the mega-ministry Jericho City of Praise fired Pastor Joel R. Peebles Sr. from the Prince George’s County church his parents founded four decades ago and escorted him off the property.

Peebles hardly went quietly. All but a few hundred of Jericho’s roughly 4,000 members left with him, and since then the group has been meeting in high school cafeterias, hotel ballrooms and an eques­trian center, waiting for an autumn legal appeal they hope will return the 43-year-old to the helm of the multimillion-dollar Landover ministry.

The battle between Peebles — the last surviving son of the late Bishop James R. Peebles Sr. and Apostle Betty Peebles — and the Jericho board for control of one of the region’s wealthiest churches has since unfolded largely behind closed doors. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Sept. 11 before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

On Friday, however, Peebles proclaimed that his congregation is not only planning its return to the Landover property but expanding its ministry to Virginia and Southern Maryland. On Sunday, he said, his flock will hold a special service in a rented space in Springfield to officially install Peebles as pastor of City of Praise Church.

Peebles said he would provide more details about the church’s ministries, including their locations, in coming months.

“I don’t feel displaced. I feel free,” he said. “We are excited to be stretching the ministry.”

Since Peebles’s ouster, only a few hundred people reportedly attend Sunday services at Jericho, even though the main sanctuary was built for 10,000. The church owns a $9 million office park, a $36 million sanctuary and more than 125 acres, including several parking lots leased to the Washington Redskins during home games.

Run separately are the Jericho Residences, a $52 million independent-living facility for seniors the church opened in 2009. Peebles sits on the board that oversees the facility.

Peebles has for two years been warring with several members of the board who say Betty Peebles, who died in 2010, wanted her son to pastor the church — but not run the whole enterprise. Bishop Peebles died 16 years ago.

Jericho officials declined to comment Friday. But in previous interviews, Jericho attorney Isaac Marks said church documents don’t establish Peebles as a trustee, someone empowered to handle church finances. He has said Peebles removed her son from the helm of the now-closed church school because it ran into financial problems.

At issue Sept. 11 will be whether the board of trustees that voted in April to remove Peebles as pastor was duly constituted in 2009.

In a request for summary judgment, Peebles’s attorneys said the case is “extremely urgent because there is a serious risk that the employees are grossly mishandling the church finances and will continue to do so.”

Peebles and his supporters have characterized efforts to interfere with him as “satanic,” but on Friday Peebles said he had nothing but love for his opponents.

“Many of them I have married to their mates. Many, I have buried their families; I have hired many of them. I have nothing but love for them and wish them the best.”

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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