A hearing to determine if a board of directors appointed by Apostle Betty R. Peebles for the Jericho City of Praise (JCOP) church is valid was postponed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court on February 8. The hearing was requested by Joel Peebles, the youngest son and only living heir of Betty Peebles, in his latest move to gain control of the Landover church and its multi-million dollar assets.

Friday’s hearing was the latest maneuver in an ongoing battle between Joel, 43, and a board of directors seated by his mother before her death in October 2010.

Nearly 100 of Joel Peebles’ supporters were bused to the Prince George’s County courthouse, but they were disappointed when Circuit Court Judge Dwight Jackson delayed the hearing for up to 15 days.

“I believe the judge is biased, he’s not really ruling right,” said Rod Chavez, a 12-year member of the church and leader of the Evangelism ministry. “It just seems like something is going (on) behind the scenes because what he allowed to happen Friday was completely uncharacteristic.”

Members of the church’s board say Betty Pebbles left them in charge of the church, its 10,000 members and other holdings that include a college, a school, and a lucrative arrangement with the Washington Redskins to provide parking on church property during the team’s home games at FedExField.

JCOP board members, all long-time friends of Betty Peebles and employees of the church, said their fight is motivated by the desire to fulfill Peebles’ wishes. This board says Betty Peebles felt her son was unable to handle oversight of a large business.

Dr. James and Betty Peebles founded the church in Northeast Washington, D.C. in 1964. Membership eventually grew to 15,000 by 1996 when James Peebles died. A year later the couple’s eldest son, James Peebles Jr. died. Later that year the church moved to its current 82-acre Landover location near the Redskins stadium. The middle son John Peebles died in 2004, leaving the youngest son, Joel, as the heir apparent to lead his parents’ church.

Joel was ousted from church leadership in April 2012 by a six-member board previously appointed by his mother, but he continues to hold weekly church services under the name City of Praise Family Ministries at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt.

When asked about Joel Peebles’ thoughts and actions while the case is reviewed by the courts, Chavez said, “He’s maintaining his position as a pastor and he’s trying to look out for the people. He’s in high spirits and doing what he was born to do every Sunday.”

Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO