Alumnus Profile: Robert Hasley

As a young man, the Rev. Dr. Robert Hasley (M.Th. ’77, M.Div., 1978) wondered how his grandmother could always say, “Everything is gonna be all right,” even in times of suffering or uncertainty. Those words helped put him on his path to ministry and were so significant that he later wrote a book titled Everything is Gonna Be All Right.

Now, those words are on his mind again, as he faces a serious medical diagnosis.

Hasley, 70, is founding pastor of St. Andrew UMC in Plano, Texas. He planted the church in a school in 1986; today, the church has 6,500 members. Just before Hasley stepped down from his role of senior pastor in July 2021, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

The church recently broke ground on a new chapel named in his honor, and Plano Mayor John Muns proclaimed the day, Nov. 7, “Rev. Robert Hasley Day” across the city. Among the accomplishments he cited were Hasley’s leadership as St. Andrew helped build more than 20 Habitat for Humanity homes in Plano’s historically Black Douglass Community, found housing for over 300 Hurricane Katrina victims and along with his wife, Sharon, helped found The Storehouse of Collin County, a food pantry at the church.

Hasley talked with Perkins Perspective about his journey and how his Perkins education guided him. Here are excerpts.

Tell us about how you first sensed your calling to ministry.

I grew up in First UMC in Magnolia, Arkansas, where I was very active in the church’s youth program. I was there every Sunday morning and Sunday night serving as president of the youth group. I preached my first sermon at that church, as a part of the youth worship.

Another great influence was my Grandmother Stephens, who was the organist and pianist for First UMC in Gurdon, Arkansas. She had a deep faith and was very service-oriented. One of her favorite sayings whenever I was going through a tough time was “Everything’s gonna be all right.” That was her statement of faith — that with Christ in your life, you know God’s going to watch over you, be there for you, and sustain you. “Everything’s gonna be all right” was kind of a driving force for me early on to think about ministry, think about faith and what it means to have Christ in your life and be an instrument of God’s grace.

Another person who had a great deal of influence on my life was the youth director at the church in Magnolia, Billy Boyd Smith. He went on to attend Perkins and served as an associate pastor at Highland Park UMC for over 40 years. He was truly selfless in his service for Christ.

When I was a freshman in college, one of my closest friends was killed in a car accident. He was my age, 19. In the midst of my profound grief, I realized that could be me. I could be here today and gone the next. That led me to ask, “What am I going to do with my life?”

I actually had a moment in my college library. It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was as if all these life experiences I’d had until that point came together and pointed me in a direction, to give my life to the Lord and to be used according to the Lord’s will.

So your path to ministry was lined with a cloud of witnesses.

That’s a good way to put it.

You spent 10 years at an established church, Highland Park UMC, and then you started a new church, St. Andrew UMC in Plano. How did your Perkins education prepare you for ministry in those two different situations?

At Perkins, I was blessed to have a new cloud of witnesses. Perkins was known across the country for its academics. If you wanted to learn how to think critically, Perkins was the place to go.

I learned a lot from John Deschner and Schubert Ogden, both systematic theology professors. One was more conservative, and the other was more progressive. They team-taught and would debate each other as a part of the class. I learned to respect different opinions and different theologies just by the way they respected each other. Each would stand up for his viewpoint. They wouldn’t apologize for their differences but accepted their differences and still cared for each other and loved each other.

I learned a great deal from Virgil Howard. I’ll never forget how he highlighted the poetry in the gospel of John and the beauty of the way the author of that gospel told the Christ story. And, I’ve always loved that gospel in part due to him.

Fred Carney taught ethics, a phenomenal class. It taught me all the different ways to ask, in any decision or situation, “What is the right thing to do? What is the most loving thing to do?”

What has enabled you to be so effective in ministry?

I think my gift is relationships. When I preach, I preach in a relational way. I usually tell a story and then tie that story to a scripture. I share how I experience God working in that story or how God’s grace touches our lives.

I think my upbringing was also important. My mom was a Methodist. My father was a Baptist. In dinner conversations, I would hear a progressive approach to religion and I would hear a conservative approach to religion. At the end of those conversations, they would kiss each other on the cheek and let each other know they still loved each other, even though they disagreed. That was a wonderful way to grow up.

My father was hired as superintendent of schools to integrate the school system in Magnolia. From him, I learned that diversity is not something to be feared. It is a blessing.

Tell us about starting St. Andrew UMC.

I spent 10 years at Highland Park UMC. I was fortunate to be able to be successful in growing a college ministry there. I would go out to visit all the dorms and the sororities and fraternities and invite kids to come be a part of this ministry. It worked, and I just loved those years. Then the senior pastor, Dr. Leighton Farrell, asked if I would plant a new church. They sent me to Plano to start a congregation. I was appointed on May 1, 1986, and the church had its first worship service on September 7, 1986, in Shepton High School in Plano.

I remember being anxious before our first worship service in the school. We were meeting in the room used as the cafeteria and auditorium. I had to preach from the stage. It was a big room to start a church. I was worried. The night before that first worship service, my 7-year-old son grabbed my arm and said, “Dad, everything’s gonna be all right. Tomorrow’s gonna be a giant day.”

We had over 500 people show up to that first service, many of them visitors from Lovers Lane UMC and Highland Park UMC, two churches that were supporting our church plant. The word got out that something was happening at Shepton. The next Sunday, all those visitors were gone but we still had 280 people show up.

Can you tell us a little bit about your health situation?

I had been talking to Bishop McKee about my successor at St. Andrew, and plans were made for Arthur Jones to become senior pastor on July 1, 2021. I would remain on staff as founding pastor. Just before I was about to turn over the reins, in April 2021, I had an abdominal pain and was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.

The cancer is not curable, but the doctor started a chemo that has slowed the cancer to such an extent that that I’m still here today. I told my doctor, “What I would like is a quality of life. I want to still be in relationships with my family and friends in church. I’d like to continue to work.” If he could allow me to do that with the treatments and allow me to function and have a quality of life, then that’s what I want. I don’t need to linger. <Laughs>

Do you still believe everything is gonna be all right?

Yes. Here’s what I decided: Whatever time I have been given, I am happiest when I have a purpose and when I’m in relationship with people I love. You have to decide: Are you dying with cancer, or are you living with cancer? I’m going to be living with cancer. I’m going to live my life to the fullest and make each day count.

I’m working on a new ministry at St. Andrew for people who are retired. I brought a whole group of people together who are about my age, and we are starting this ministry. It’s a way of keeping our members who are 50 and older engaged and involved. We are going to launch this ministry in September.

I’m also spending a lot of time with family. Sharon and I have five grown children and five grandchildren. I have got plans to see my two granddaughters in Crozet, Virginia. I’ve always wanted to go to Cooperstown, New York, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, so I took my boys there. We visited my best friend from high school, who is a heart surgeon in New York City, and saw the World Trade Center honoring the victims of 9/11. We’re just doing things and we’re talking at a depth that we haven’t talked in a long time. We feel closer to each other now than probably we’ve ever felt.

My oldest son just took me on a five-day trip through Arkansas, going to all the places where I grew up. He wanted to hear all the stories. And most of the stories I told were true. Except when I started talking about football exploits. I may have stretched those a little bit.