Dr. Jasmin Sculark takes a holistic approach to ministry, knowing that as the recently appointed senior pastor of the Jericho City of Praise in Landover, MD, her evangelism may one day require leadership in the most contentious of challenges. As she spoke to EBONY.com, thousands of mourners filed into the funeral of Michael Brown, Jr., an unarmed Black 18-year-old killed at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., on August 9. It was one of the hottest days of the year, and perhaps aptly so, as the community has been searing with a swell of fury and grief ever since. Brown’s killing has elicited a resumption of the anger and sadness that surfaces in Black communities all too frequently, and Sculark realizes that being a church leader has long accompanied the charge to convert rage to solutions and jeers to justice. Sculark is a leader primed for such a time as this.
“God cannot heal what we conceal, and what happened in Ferguson lets us know that we might have put a band-aid on a wound that is still there,” she says. Having spoken out from the pulpit on such topics as “The Zimmerman Syndrome” after the 2012 slaying of Trayvon Martin in Florida, she believes that churches and leaders of all stripes must drag societal ills into the light. “The [onus] has been placed on the Black Church because we’re closer to the situation, but there is a huge responsibility for the Church in general. It’s not simply a Black or White issue; we need to minister to humanity as a whole.”
As she preps for her Sept. 7 installation as the Jericho City of Praise’s senior pastor, she reflects on how her upbringing drives her mission to spread the gospel while providing a wide scope of support to those who fill the 10,000 seats of Jericho’s main sanctuary and to the residents of Prince George’s County, Md., 65 percent of whom are Black.
“Lavantille was a drug-infested area, the kind of place where the average young person would never grow up past the age of 14 or 15,” she recalls of her birthplace, a village on the island of Trinidad and Tobago. Sculark — who never knew her father and lost her mother at 14 — came of age in a makeshift treehouse of sorts, a dilapidated smattering of rotting wood with a slanted rooftop. Under the care of her older sister, Sculark sought to repel the negativity that pervaded her village. “My sister instilled in me a sense of values. I was looking for something to hold on to.”
A friend connected the young Sculark to a local church that ignited her desire to make a positive impact on those around her. Her journey, however, was not without its kinks. “I had a potty mouth in middle school. It was more of a defense mechanism considering my environment, but a teacher told me that if I could use my words for positivity, I could become an encourager and a builder,” she remembers.
In 1989, with $30 and one suitcase, Sculark boarded a flight for New York. The high school graduate had been accepted to Practical Bible College in Binghamton, NY, where she was the first African-Caribbean woman admitted to the institution. “It was such a culture shock, but I learned to do cross-cultural ministry,” she says.
Sculark received a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in 2007, later serving as pastor at churches in Columbus, Ohio, and York, Pa. In addition to hosting duties on The Word Network’s “This is Your Best Day Yet,” she’s spoken at the Potter’s House Church in Dallas and at the popular MegaFest festival in 2013. Sculark joined the Jericho City of Praise in April 2014 as a woman who had gone from living in a treehouse to leading one of the nation’s largest houses of worship. “I was definitely designed to be dropped down in the middle of the earth to make a sound for God,” she says.
As she readies a keynote sermon for the Woman Thou Art Loosed conference in Atlanta this October, Sculark (affectionately known as “Dr. Jazz” to friends and congregants) concentrates on using her work to empower women in all arenas. “I want to equip women to change the game in politics, business, and even in the Church,” she says of Jericho’s Game Changers conference for women, coming in March.
In continuing the vision of Jericho’s late founder, Apostle Dr. Betty Peebles, Sculark also plans to develop of a shelter for victims of domestic violence, which has seen a tremendous increase among Prince George’s County residents in recent months. “I grew up in a domestically violent home. There was rage; there was constant fighting throughout my village; and there was always physical, mental, and emotional abuse toward women,” she shares. “So when I heard the news story about domestic violence in this area, something leaped in my belly. I knew it was part of my purpose.”
Through the church’s food pantry, recent back-to-school backpack giveaway and other outreach efforts, Sculark hopes that she and her congregation can meet the many needs plaguing nearby families. “We have to be able to minister to everyone who is hurting.”
And sometimes a community’s hurt can be linked to unwarranted tragedy. In light of recent incidences of violence among and against people of color, Sculark recognizes that her mission requires her to have hard conversations. “We moved on so fast after Trayvon Martin, and we didn’t go through the full healing,” she says of preemptive initiatives to keep stories like Martin’s and Michael Brown’s from fading out of the public consciousness after the mainstream media moves on. “I’ve spoken to some pastors in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, and we’re collectively seeing how we can have some reconciliation with what’s happening in the community with our young people. Until we have some serious dialogue, there cannot be true healing.” Tackling the hard stuff, Sculark believes, is necessary for meaningful reconciliation and is a key focus of her new position, one for which her upbringing may have rendered her unlikely but for which she appears to have been divine prepared.