Controversy concerning a megachurch pastor and a church board at odds with each other reached its boiling point Wednesday with the pastor of the Maryland church founded by his parents being fired and forcibly removed by the police.
The Rev. Joel Peebles, the only surviving child of the late Apostle Betty R. Peebles, co-founder of Jericho City of Praise in Landover, Md., only found out about his termination Wednesday afternoon when he arrived to work in preparation for an evening Bible class. The board of trustees claims the reason for his firing is because he was not experienced enough for the lead pastor role, but many dismayed church members claim his dismissal was over a money dispute with board members.
"I came here to go to church, and I got terminated," the Rev. Peebles was quoted as saying by the The Washington Post. "I was told to leave, and the police escorted me out. They told me I was not pastor here nor a member of the church. . . . The officer told me I was trespassing."
The official statement by Jericho City of Praise does not immediately make it clear why Peebles was removed from his position, but the trustees insist the decision "was not made without prayerful consideration and patience."
"Steps taken today will ensure an orderly transition that will continue to provide thousands of people from across the region the opportunity to participate in worship, school and other services that are a vital part of our church and community," the statement reads, and adds: "Today begins a new day for Jericho."
The Jericho church apparently has large assets, including a 10,000-seat sanctuary, a senior citizens' complex, schools and parking for Washington Redskins home games. According to The Washington Post report, Peebles and trustees had long been unable to agree on some key financial principles behind managing the church.
Board members reportedly tried to argue that Joel Peebles was fired because he did not have additional training for the position, but Peebles has explained that he preached alongside his mother every Sunday growing up.
"I preached at 8 a.m. and was by her side when she preached at the 11 a.m. service," the former pastor explained in a previous interview.
Congregation members who expected to hold the Bible study class on Wednesday rallied in support of their ousted pastor.
"All the work he's done, and they are trying to kick him to the curb like this?" one unidentified woman shouted. "The devil is alive!"
"My pastor is a wonderful man of God. His family built this church from the ground up," said another church-goer, Jessica Williams.
The Rev. Peebles eventually joined the crowd, and urged them to cool their tempers, but promised his ministry with them was not over.
"I want to share with you that we will be having church. We will be having church," the reverend proclaimed. "We're gonna have church here. We're going to have church everywhere. . . . Nobody will never stop the people of God from worshiping God. . . . We're going to stand as a church. A church is not a building. The building is simply a tool where people can worship."
"Until it says, 'The board is Lord,' I don't think we have to go anywhere!" he added. His followers reportedly shouted that they would go wherever he goes.