The parking lots were filled, and the only space available in the 10,000-seat sanctuary was in the upper decks Sunday, as more than 8,000 people came out to witness the return of Bishop Joel Peebles to Jericho City of Praise in Landover.
Sporting a new suit and a frame that is 100 pounds leaner, Peebles was almost eclipsed by a large gathering of ministers, dancers waving gold flags and a choir singing, “He has done great things. Bless His holy name.”
“Tonight was so humbling,” Peebles said in a text message after the service. “It is proof that even though we may go through a season, God will see us through.”
Although Peebles and his followers are enjoying being back at City of Praise, across the street, the doors of Jericho Christian Academy remain closed, teachers have not been paid and families who had enrolled their children at the school have become unexpected casualties at the end of a three-year power struggle over control of the church.
In July, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stuart G. Nash ruled that in 2009, Peebles was improperly removed from the board of trustees of the church started by his mother, Betty Peebles, and that subsequent actions taken by the board, including firing Peebles as pastor after his mother’s death and the eventual hiring of the Rev. Jasmin Sculark, were invalid.
Saying that she is “still called to preach in the DMV,” Sculark said that, instead of waging lengthy appeals in court, she will start a new ministry a few miles from Jericho. Sculark’s new church, Victory Grace Center, will have its first service at 10 a.m. Sunday at Bladensburg High School.
The plight of the Jericho school, however, has sparked a war of words between Peebles and the lawyer representing the board that attempted to remove him from the church, who accused Peebles and his followers of not acting in the best interest of the school.
“It is our understanding that Mr. Peebles and/or his agents have chosen to padlock many parts of the campus, not to allow the teachers access, and prevent the school from opening, thereby displacing students,” said Sean C. Trice, the lawyer for the board. “We do not agree with any of these decisions, and we have taken legal action to address this situation.”
But in a statement dated Aug. 27, Joel and Ylawnda Peebles said, “The City of Praise is working tirelessly to aid the precious staff and teachers of Jericho Christian Academy during this transition. While the funds to operate the school and church campus are being held up by the previous administration, the church has taken upon itself to contribute to school obligations.
“Please understand that the church did not collect funds nor execute staff contracts; however, we are (in an effort of love) working to aid staff and parents,” the statement continued. “As of Friday, August 28, 2015, the ministry will have gifted over $40,000 for Academy expenses which it did not incur. We sincerely thank the tremendous JCA staff and parents for their patience as our goals are aligned.”