In 1997, Temple University history professor Bettye Collier-Thomas published Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, a groundbreaking examination of the contributions of African-American women preachers to the church.

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Modern-day “Daughter of Thunder,” the Rev. Dr. Jasmin Sculark, said reading that text helped her understand her ministerial birthright, similar to what she inherited from the Apostle Betty Peebles at Jericho City of Praise, where she was recently inducted as senior pastor.

“When I studied that book, when I looked at all those women, I realized that I am part of a rich legacy,” Sculark said in an interview with the AFRO. “The Apostle Betty Peebles was a … ‘Mother of Thunder.’ She wrote books, broke the glass ceiling, she dared to go where no other man would have gone.”

Though burdened by the deaths of her husband and two sons, Peebles built Jericho, based in Landover, Md., into a megachurch that counts among its assets a 10,000-seat sanctuary, senior citizens’ complex, school, and other enterprises.

Peebles is just one of Sculark’s “sheroes” and heroes in ministry. The Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, a presidential advisor, pastor, theologian, author, activist, academic, and former United States ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom in the Obama administration is one of them.

Susie C. Owens, co-pastor of Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Washington, D.C., and, according to Sculark, one of the only female preachers to “shut it down” at Bishop T.D. Jakes’ MegaFest is another. She also looks up to and relies on the counsel of the Rev. Dr. Charles Booth, her “father in ministry,” and pastor John K. Jenkins, of First Baptist Church of Glenarden.

And then there are the Bible luminaries she admires: Esther, who, Sculark said, stepped forward when called upon instead of remaining in the relative safety of the sidelines; and Deborah, a respected female leader and a fighter, who, if she has to go down, will go down “swinging.” Then there’s Simon Peter, the imperfect disciple who became the rock upon which Christ built his church. “It helps keep you humble that you can be solid as a rock but you’re not perfect, you also have some weaknesses. But even in the midst of Peter’s weaknesses, God used him. You know he preached one sermon, and 3,000 people got saved,” Sculark said.

Like her ministerial heroes and heroines, Dr. Jazz said she has her share of weaknesses and challenges, which she shares in her book, Dancing with Broken Bones. With beginnings in the poverty- and violence-stricken urban jungle of Laventille, Trinidad, bereft of both mother and father, Sculark had many issues to battle. But her experiences have helped shape her calling, she said.

“I get to minister to everybody, but my passion is women. I believe in liberating and empowering women,”Dr. Jazz said. “That’s a passion that God has given me – to help liberate women – because for so many years I mental violence and mental abuse because I didn’t know who I am. And not knowing who you are – you know your identity plays a part in your destiny. So I want to equip, educate, and empower everyone, but particularly women, to let them know that greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world.”

That is why the issue of domestic violence – the incidence of which is high in the DMV area – will be on her agenda as she assumes the mantle of leadership at Jericho, Sculark said. has not tapped into that at all, about uncovering the issue of domestic violence or even providing holistic ministry,” Dr. Jazz said. “One of the problems sometimes with the Church is that we deal with the symptoms and not the root of the issue. And until you get to the root of why this person is violent or abusive all you’re doing is dealing with the symptom.”

And it may not be just about addressing the issue from the pulpit, she added. “The Apostle Betty Peebles had a desire to provide a shelter, a tangible way of providing for women and men in that situation , because you know sometimes churches talk a whole lot but they don’t put action behind what they’re saying. And the Apostle Betty Peebles wanted a woman or man in an abusive relationship needed a place to stay provide that .”

Apostle Peebles was not able to see the completion of that dream, Sculark said. “That’s one of the legacies I hope God will empower me to carry on.”

Beyond that, Sculark hopes to shepherd Jericho’s parishioners and others through the perilous times facing them—a time of shifting values and social ills, like those raised by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.—and to help the Church become a viable part of the solution.

“The Church is living in challenging times, but it’s a great time. I think sometimes with the shifting of values and stuff, it’s an awakening for the Church,” she said. “Sometimes the Church falls asleep . . . we just go through the routines or buries its head in the sand” on certain issues.

“I see it as a great opportunity for the Church to speak truth to power and to look at what they’re really doing—are they self-serving or are they society- and Christ-serving? And to examine what kind of gospel we’re actually sharing.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO