Leader of megachurch eulogized
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 3:08 AM
The megachurch that Apostle Betty Peebles helped found and transform into one of the largest congregations in the region was packed with mourners Friday as pastors, politicians and church members paid final tribute to a woman who was a spiritual leader in a field dominated by men.
About 8,000 people attended the five-hour funeral service for Peebles, who died Oct. 12 of cancer at age 76, leaving only a few empty seats high near the ceiling of the Jericho City of Praise in Landover.
Peebles and her husband founded the church 44 years ago, starting with a handful of worshipers in a Northeast Washington public-housing complex and growing it into a colossus of a church with 19,000 congregants.
Peebles led the church for the past 14 years, taking over after her husband, Bishop James R. Peebles Sr., died while the sprawling church complex was still under construction.
The main sanctuary of the church adjacent to FedEx Field became a crossroads of faith and politics for her funeral.
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) postponed their radio debate in the gubernatorial race because both candidates planned to attend the funeral. So many prominent politicians and fellow ministers wanted to speak at the church about the woman they admired that Associate Minister Bobby Henry limited their remarks to a few minutes.
The Rev. Joanne Browning, co-pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, said Peebles's legacy included the model she set for other female ministers.
"Apostle Betty Peebles didn't slip through the door," she said. "She kicked it down."
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) recalled Peebles not just as a spiritual leader and friend but as a force for economic empowerment in a church whose ministry included schools, counseling services and residences for senior citizens.
"I was so proud of her," Mikulski said. "She was the first lady minister to head up a megachurch, with all those powerful men. . . . She was a great friend. She always gave me a word of wisdom. If my slip was showing, she told me that, too."
Thousands of mourners had paid their respects earlier in the week, filing over two days past her body in an open, aqua blue casket at the front of the church. For many people who sat in the pews Friday, it was as if she were still alive, officiating at her own funeral.
The service began with a video of Peebles, displayed on a large screen, singing gospel music. Many mourners clapped and shouted "Amen," along with Peebles when she sang, "When I see Jesus, Amen, all of my sorrows, all of my troubles, all of my pain will be over, when I see Jesus, Amen."