After a three-year court battle, Joel Peebles is back at the Jericho City of Praise, the church his family built into one of the Washington area’s largest and best-known houses of worship.
“All that I want to say is to God be the glory, and we are humbled and blessed,” said Peebles as he, his wife and their son left the administrative offices of the 100-acre Landover campus Friday afternoon. “I have to get my son to football practice.”
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, were invalid.
So on Monday, Peebles returned to church, and two days later, the Rev. Jasmin Sculark, who had been hired by the Jericho City of Praise board of directors in 2014, issued a statement about the end of her tenure as pastor.
“I have been honored to pastor at Jericho City of Praise for this past year and serve the congregation and community,” Sculark said. “I am not, nor have I ever been involved in any way, directly nor indirectly in any of the legal battles surrounding the church and the Board of Directors. All of the legal cases predate my arrival to Jericho City of Praise.”
The church — which Betty Peebles and her husband, the late James R. Peebles Sr., founded in Northeast Washington more than five decades ago — has grown into a 100-acre campus near FedEx Field in Landover, complete with senior-citizen housing, a business park, a school and a drug treatment center. At its peak, the church had 15,ooo members.
The church — a nationally known venue for religious and musical icons including T.D. Jakes and Patti LaBelle — filed papers to incorporate in Maryland in 2010, a few weeks after Betty Peebles died.
The ensuing fight over who would control Jericho has been so bitter that it split the congregation and spawned years of litigation in the Maryland and D.C. courts.
In 2012, the church’s board fired Joel Peebles, escorting him off church property after a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge gave the board authority to do so. That ruling was later rejected by the Maryland Special Court of Appeals.
Thousands of church members who sided with Joel Peebles have since chosen to worship in school auditoriums and sports arenas. Members loyal to the board have continued to worship in the church complex.
The ruling by the appeals court judge, Nash, invalidated the authority of the church board and any of the board’s actions regarding the church or its remnants. The judge said Peebles and William A. Meadows, the board’s chairman, should have been be placed back on the board, and church members who sued to protest their own ouster from Jericho should be reinstated as members, pending “a review of their status by the validly constituted Board of Trustees of Jericho DC.”
Lawyers for the board went to the D.C. Court Appeals and filed papers to stay the order, but the motion was denied. Then Peebles gave Sculark and her team a month to vacate the church.
Peebles said he had nothing but praise for Sculark, saying, “We love her.”
On Saturday, Sculark meet with about 200 people in the main sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, where she sparked applause when she told the gathering that while she no longer is the pastor of the Jericho City of Praise, she planned to open a new church building with a new name Labor Day weekend.
“I am still called to preach to pastor people in the DMV,” said Sculark adding that she planned to have 21 days of fasting and prayer before she makes her new plans known. “I seek clarity from God in regards to a location and name.”
And while many in gathering expressed thanks and vowed to follow her, the room grew quiet when Sculark told those gathered that they all needed to decide between three entities in terms of where they will worship in the future: The Jericho City of Praise under Peebles; Jericho Baptist Church, which is being led by the board members who deposed Peebles; or her new ministry.
“If you go with Bishop Peebles, go in grace; if you go with the church led by the board, go in grace; and if you come with Dr. Jazz go in grace,” Sculark said. “I don’t have a building, I don’t have a name, but I do have a vision. … This isn’t about a clique, this isn’t about friends, ain’t no Bentley (Betty Peebles old car), this is about rolling up your sleeves and working.”
This Sunday and next, Sculark said she will be worshiping at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. Joel and Ylawnda Peebles will continue to hold services at Forestville Military Academy and Roosevelt High School. Jericho City of Praise will be vacant.
A statement from the Peebles posted on the doors of the City of Praise read: “We are working as quickly as possible to facilitate all work so your church experience is as enjoyable as possible when you encounter God.”
But Joy Bell, a longtime Jericho board member who didn’t go with Peebles, isn’t sure what she will do in the future. She said she loves Jericho, but she worries about how she might be treated by the returning church members. “It is not about buildings,” she said. “It is all about the people.”