MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - Local 24 has learned Chris Conlee, lead pastor and founder of Highpoint Church, has resigned. The announcement came Wednesday afternoon.
A parishioner told Local 24 Conlee had been on sabbatical and was "noticeably absent" the last few weeks. The church recently closed its Arlington campus, leaving only Collierville and East Memphis.
News of leadership shakeup inside Highpoint Church resonates with Jules Woodson, the woman who came forward in January telling the world she was sexually assaulted by former pastor Andy Savage when he was her youth pastor in Texas in the 1990's
Over the phone she told reporter Dave Detling, "It's overwhelming and I promise you these are actually good tears."
She went on to say the resignation of Chris Conlee was a relief and serendipitous at the same time. The news broke on her birthday.
"I definitely think this is the high point of my birthday," she said. "I feel it is absolutely the right decision for Chris Conlee to resign from ministry."
Local 24 obtained the letter sent out to church members announcing his resignation.
"Over the last couple of months Chris and the trustees have been praying and discussing the direction and future of our church," the letter reads. "We love and respect each other and pray God's best for Highpoint and Chris and the way God's leading him."
The letter included a joint statement from Conlee and the church's trustees, thanking Conlee and his family for the "outstanding ministry" they've given the church over the years.
"After much prayer and counsel, the trustees and Chris have mutually agreed that the time is now for Chris to pass the baton," the letter read.
Conlee, who is a graduate of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, became Highpoint's pastor in 2002.
"We are very grateful for the Godly example of a loving father and husband that Chris is - always upholding and teaching the sanctity of marriage and family as a reflection of Christ and the church," the letter went on to say.
Despite the letter, some church members voiced concern.
One member, who did not want to be identified asked, "Who are these trustees? I want to see a letter of who these people are. I'm really upset by all this. What do they mean by wanting to go in different directions?"
Local 24 took those questions directly to Highpoint offices.
Dave Detling spoke to Jim Pritchard over the phone, but all he would said was, "no comment."
As Local 24 has reported, Conlee stood by Andy Savage when the news of that sexual assault went public. He was heavily criticized for supporting Savage until the teaching pastor stepped down in late March.
Ms. Woodson and survivor advocates believe Conlee's resignation is a step in the right direction.
"Because of what has transpired over the last 6-7 months at Highpoint, that should serve as a sign to other churches in the city that it is time to come clean," said Kenny Stubblefield.
"I wish the best for Highpoint Church," said Woodson. "I hope the people in church now see there is a dire need for transparency and clarity."
Local 24 has learned since the original story involving Jules Woodson and Andy Savage went public, attendance at Highpoints two campuses have declined.
In its letter to church members, officials said they are searching for both a new teaching pastor and senior pastor. They also said additional plans are in the works to refocus and streamline ministry priorities, including live Bible teaching at both campuses.
Conlee is expected to address the congregation Sunday morning.