The Prince George’s judge in the Jericho City of Praise in Landover case said Friday that he will make a decision soon about who will control the church’s millions of dollars in assets.
“We will take it under advisement shortly and shortly is not today,” said Circuit Court Judge Dwight Jackson, who did not give a specific date on when he expected to issue a ruling.
Jackson must decide who will legally control the church: Elder Joel Peebles, the son of the deceased pastor, or a governing board made up of top staff members who were close to his mother, Apostle Betty Peebles.
The appearance in court comes one year after the death of Betty Peebles, the former leader of one of the region’s largest churches.
About 100 people filled Courtroom 2020 in Upper Marlboro, including Joel Peeble and members of the seperate church board that is opposing him. On Friday evening, a gospel concert is planned to celebrate the life of Betty Peebles.
“We are going to keep doing the work of the Lord we are going to celebrate the life of a great Apostle tonight,” said Joel Peebles after the hearing.
When Betty Peebles was alive, Joel, her last living son, was the church’s assistant pastor. Since her death, Peebles has been at odds with board members who say that his mother wanted him to preach but not be the chief executive of multi- million dollar church organization.
Tim Maloney, who represents Joel Peebles, had asked Jackson to name his client as the rightful head of the church and snatch power away from the board elected in March. Maloney also has asked for an independent trustee to be appointed to help manage Jericho.
The protracted fight, Maloney said, is jeopardizing the refinancing of multi-million senior housing facility that Peebles dedicated before she died.
"We want to bring unity in the church and get the church out of the courthouse," Maloney said. “The church is doing great and the ministry is growing but the senior housing can't be refinanced until certain issues get clarified. There are currently two boards."
But Isaac Marks, the lawyer who represents the current board, sees things differently. "This board was put in place 18 months before the Apostle died,” he said. “They just didn't get together and take over. We believe that the judge will see that."
Jackson must discern what Betty Peebles intended.
The two most prominent members of the church’s current board are Peebles’ long time secretary Denise Killen and facility manager Clarence Jackson.
Killen said in an interview, "As we observe the anniversary of the passing of our leader, it is our endeavor to continue in the unity and spirit of the Jericho City of Praise."