Every time the Washington Redskins play a home game, the Rev. Betty Peebles and members of the 13,000-member Jericho City of Praise count more than their blessings.
Since the stadium opened in September 1997, tens of thousands of dollars have been dropped into Jericho's coffers by Redskins fans who pay $15 a car to park in the church lot nearby. The lot can hold at least 2,000 cars for football fans, even when church services are being held.
But Peebles, the church's senior pastor, is worried. With the Redskins' new plan to divert traffic to US Airways Arena, Peebles says her members may have problems getting to church. She also is concerned that the church's income from parking--as much as $30,000 a game--could be reduced.
"I am really perturbed about this," Peebles said. "This is common ground that we share together, but the Redskins organization is acting like we are not here."
Redskins officials and Prince George's County police said the route to church should be relatively easy with the new plan. And Lt. Ed Burke, in charge of special events for the county police, said he believes Peebles's chief concern is the potential loss of parking income.
The new Redskins' traffic plan will route thousands of fans to the other side of the Capital Beltway and away from Jericho to parking at US Airways Arena. Only cars with special permits will be allowed into the 22,000 spaces on the stadium grounds, and the Redskins believe they can accommodate most, if not all, of them.
Karl Swanson, a spokesman for Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder, said the goal is to ease congestion, not to squeeze the church out of the parking business. "If the church wants to sell parking spaces," Swanson said, "they can go right ahead. Clearly the Redskins have no interest in stopping people from going to the church for any reason."
More than half of Jericho's members, about 7,000 people, attend services in two sessions on Sundays. Services begin at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. By 2:30 p.m., most churchgoers are leaving the parking lot. The $35 million church complex has six buildings on an 80-acre campus.
"I am depending on the Redskins to keep their word. People should have access to our property for whatever reason they want," Peebles said. "There has been a blatant disrespect for Bishop Peebles Drive." Arena Drive also is known as Bishop Peebles Drive, for Peebles's late husband, James.
Burke said that at many home games, there is a spirited competition between Redskins parking attendants and church attendants to lure parkers to their lots. The competition has become so fierce that police have decided to make Arena Drive off limits to parking attendants.
"Their attendants were going out into the streets and waving people into the church parking lot, and the Redskins attendants were jumping in front of the church attendants," Burke said. "It turned into a competition. We said your attendants have to stay in the driveway entrances. Only police officers can be in the street."
Peebles's concerns intensified after Redskins security guards on Tuesday escorted church leaders out of a news conference where the new traffic plan was unveiled.
Peebles said she and other church leaders need more specifics about how the plan will be implemented. She said that was the only reason the church's general counsel, Bobby Henry, attended the Tuesday news conference, along with the church's head of security, Clarence Jackson.
"I had no idea who they were. Other people showed up at the press conference, and if they were not press, stadium security didn't let them come to the press briefing," Swanson said. "If they had called, we would be happy to make arrangements."
But Henry, who has a law practice in Prince George's, said: "That's a flat lie. When we went to the meeting, they greeted us. Asked us to sit down. Then they called security and kicked us out. We were kicked out."
Burke said Jackson and Henry are spreading "erroneous information." "I told Mr. Henry that in no way would his people be impeded from going to church," Burke said. "He was complaining that too much traffic is being diverted to US Airways Arena because he wants to make more money.
"I told him, 'Mr. Henry, people know your lots are there.' What is going to happen when there is a line of cars [waiting to get] into the church's parking lot? Where will the egg on the face be then?"
Henry said the church doesn't need the cash from parking. He said the church is just providing a better product to the public.
"The money we collected for parking didn't build the $35 million City of Praise," said Henry, who suggested the church is a better parking venue than the stadium. "We provide a service to the fans. We are not parking people on gravel lots with temporary lighting. Our lots are finished parking areas."
Swanson said: "The Redskins are not going to get in the way of anyone trying get to church. We are very aware that the church is right next door. We are very aware that Sunday is a special day for the church as well as the Redskins."