October 28, 2019
Katherine Burgess
Commercial Appeal

About 19 months after resigning from his position as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church, Andy Savage is starting a new church in Memphis, according to a filing with the state and an audio recording of an “interest meeting” for the new church.

Savage resigned from his position at Highpoint after being accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl in Texas about 20 years ago while her youth pastor.

“He was my ordained Youth Minister,” tweeted Jules Woodson, Savage’s victim. “He knew me and groomed me since I was 14. This was not a mistake it was a crime! Per TX law it is non-consensual sexual assault. Fine, let him move on & sit in the pews, but he has absolutely disqualified himself from the pulpit.”

Amy Smith, an advocate and blogger, shared the news of Savage’s plan to start Grace Valley Church over the weekend.

Savage also filed nonprofit information for Grace Valley Church with the state earlier this month.

Smith shared an audio recording purported to be from a 30-minute interest meeting for the church. In the recording, a man referring to himself as “Andy” preaches from Acts 17.

Woodson confirmed it is Savage’s voice in the recording.

In the recording he says, “It’s not hard to find out what I’ve done wrong. Just Google my name, it’s out there. It’s not hard to figure it out. And here’s the thing, we all have our story. Mine just got national news coverage.”

Reached by phone, Savage did not want to comment.

A website being shared for Grace Valley Church contains a form asking for contact information, family detail, prayer requests, comments and questions. According to Google Forms, the form was created inside, Savage’s website.

Woodson said that it almost sounds like Savage makes light of her sexual assault in the audio recording--- treating it like a “story” that everyone has.

“Not everybody sexually assaulted a minor under their care, “Woodson said. “Had Andy taught me science instead of religion, he would be in jail and he would never be allowed back in that workplace.”

“A dangerous precedent”

Woodson was a 17-year-old high school senior at the time of the alleged assault in 1998. Savage was her 22-year-old youth pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in suburban Houston.

Years later, Woodson emailed Savage and asked if he remembered the sexual assault. When he didn’t reply, she told her story on Smith’s blog and another that advocates for victims of sexual abuse.

In the post, she wrote that Savage drove her to a remote area where he exposed himself, asked her for oral sex and touch her breasts. “Scared and embarrassed,” she complied until he “suddenly stopped” and begun pleading with her not to tell anyone.

Texas authorities were contacted by Woodson after the case was publicized in January, but they said the statute of limitations had expired. They said Texas law in effect at the time would have made charges difficult.

After Woodson told her story, Savage addressed the congregation at Highpoint, apologizing to the church for a “sexual incident” that occurred when he was a youth pastor in Texas. The church gave him a standing ovation.

“I was sorry then and remain so today,” Savage wrote in that statement. “Again, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from her and pray for God’s continued healing for everyone involved.”

In a resignation statement, he noted that his “inappropriate relationship with Jules… was not only immoral, but meets the definition of abuse of power since (he) was her youth pastor.”

The Memphis megachurch launched an investigation that found no other instances of abuse, but said Savage’s resignation was appropriate.

The case became an example of the #metoo and #churchtoo movement.

Now, Woodson says that she’s not denying Savage a normal life --- nor is she denying him forgiveness and God’s grace.

“It sets a dangerous precedent for him to be back in the pulpit,” Woodson said. “God’s grace is amazing, but God’s grace doesn’t mean you get to be back in ministry.”

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