Claiming “vindication, validation and victory,” Joel R. Peebles told supporters Sunday that he thinks a recent court ruling clears the way for him and his followers to return to the church his parents founded four decades ago. But the board of Jericho City of Praise disagrees.
Addressing more than 1,500 people who packed a service at a high school in Greenbelt, Peebles, formerly the church’s acting pastor, said he wants to proceed “in decency and in order. We are not going to do to them what they did to us.”
But the future remains unclear, after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Thursday rejected a lower court’s decision that led to Peebles’s removal in April. A three-judge panel has sent the case back to the lower court.
Two members of Jericho’s board initially referred all questions about the court ruling to a statement in the weekly church bulletin.
“The Court of Special Appeals decision does not change the current status quo. The current leadership of Jericho remains and the church will continue to serve its members and provide vital services to the community,” wrote Erika E. Cole, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the church.
But board member Denise Killen decided to speak briefly outside the 10,000-seat sanctuary in Landover, although fellow member Clarence Jackson urged her not to.
“This is not about one man,” she said, referring to Peebles, 42, whom she has known since he was a child. Killen has said in the past that the board’s job is to carry out the wishes of Apostle Betty Peebles, who died in October 2010.
Killen, who was a close aide to Betty Peebles, added that Joel Peebles was never named as pastor.
In the first ruling in the case, Prince George’s Circuit Court Judge Dwight Jackson accepted claims made by board members, who said that Peebles had no authority at Jericho because he was not a member of a group that Betty Peebles had installed.
But Joel Peebles and other church leaders who said they were “excommunicated” by the six-member board said the appellate court’s order gives them a legal mandate to return to Jericho City of Praise, where at one time the congregation easily filled the 10,000-seat sanctuary on a campus near FedEx Field.
At the service at the high school, longtime Jericho attorney Bobby Henry said that last week’s ruling has undercut the board members’ authority. It’s time for Joel Peebles’s supporters to return to their spiritual home, he said.
“The plan for City of Praise ministry is to return . . . that we might be able to serve God and this community,” Henry said.
In his first public comments on the dispute, William Meadows, the chairman of an earlier Jericho board, said Sunday the group that claims to be the board is not legitimate.
“They were a rogue board from the beginning,” Meadows said. “They were never an elected board. It never happened.”
After the service at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Peebles and a few of his supporters went to Jericho, said Henry, who now represents Peebles.
Henry added that Peebles told him that when he walked into the church, Clarence Jackson told him the group would have to leave.
While her husband was visiting the church, Yolanda Peebles was onstage at the high school, thanking the church’s members who have supported them.
“You have loved us through the toughest season my husband has ever faced,” she said.
While lawyers are expected to eventually square off again in court, longtime members such as Edith Joynes, 77, remain in the crossfire of an ugly fight.
The board “thought they were doing the right thing, but I am the Jericho City of Praise,” said Joynes, a supporter of Peebles who attended his service Sunday using a wheelchair, as she recovers from a stroke.