More than 200 churchgoers clad in red lined the halls Feb. 8 of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro in support of a lawsuit against the leadership of a 10,000 seat Landover mega-church demanding an election of the church’s board of trustees.
Former members of the Jericho City of Praise are suing the church’s leadership, arguing they were never properly elected by the congregation’s adult members following the death of pastor Betty Peebles in October 2010.
Her son, Joel Peebles, has been embroiled in a separate lawsuit with church leadership and has conducted weekly services at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt since his ouster shortly after her death.
Rod Chavez, a Bowie resident and one of the former congregation members listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the current leadership neglected to have an election on church officers when they filed new articles of incorporation shortly after Betty Peebles’ death, a violation of state law.
“They said in the paperwork that all the people elected them,” he said. “But in fact no one did. We just want to get the right to vote (on the church’s leadership).”
Shortly after Betty Peebles’ death, the current church leadership sued to exert financial control over the church. Joel Peebles, the assistant pastor, remained with the church while fighting the lawsuit until he was fired in April 2012, at which point he began his own ministry.
Joel Peebles said the Roosevelt services attracts upwards of 1,500 attendees weekly.
The current church leadership operates the 10,000-seat church along with a senior center and school as well as a contract to provide paid parking for Washington Redskins games.
Lawyers with the church filed a motion Friday morning appealing the default judgment as the church had not responded to the initial lawsuit from former members.
The five plaintiffs in the case have until Feb. 23 to respond, at which point a new hearing will be scheduled, said Circuit Court Judge Dwight Jackson, who presided over the hearing.
Erika E. Cole, an attorney representing the church’s board of trustees, said in a press release that the board “is committed to continuing the vision established by Apostle Betty P. Peebles.”
“The outcome of the motions hearing before Judge Jackson ... today did not alter the continued recognition by the Court that the current Board of Trustees is the lawful governing board of the Church,” Cole wrote. “Despite the fact that some continue to challenge the repeated conclusions of the Court as to the Church’s lawful governing board, the Board of Trustees ... will continue to focus on service to God, the Church and the community.”
After the hearing, Joel Peebles spoke to the crowd of supporters outside the court house and said although he was “disappointed” the judge did not order an election of trustees, he was confident the congregation would continue to rally behind the effort.
“Do they realize they’re giving this group another 30 days to pray?” Peebles said. “That will just give us more power and the next time our group will be in the thousands.”