Clergy couple serving together at the same church align priorities
By Lindsay Peyton
There are countless reasons that could have prevented Randy and Susan Hageman from meeting – but God was at work, putting everything in motion. Now this clergy couple has been married for 34 years, with two children Kathryn Holmes and William Hageman and one grandchild Charlotte Holmes. Randy serves as senior pastor for the Conference’ Gateway Community Church in Webster, where Susan also works as pastor of the women’s ministry. Whether at home or at the helm of the congregation, faith remains central to their lives.
When Susan came home from college at Baylor, and headed to meet her mother at their church Marvin UMC in Tyler, the last thing on her mind was finding the love of her life. But that’s exactly what happened.
Randy just started as a student pastor at the church. He arrived from Houston, where he worked as an engineer, attended Memorial Drive UMC and received his calling to ministry. “I couldn’t do 90 percent,” he said. “I made a commitment.”
That’s how he ended up in Tyler – to take the first steps into a new career path. The day after he met Susan, she left for a trip with Baylor to Europe and had applied to The University of Edinburgh in Scotland and pursue studies in either theology or literature. That initial meeting, however, would soon change their plans.
“Something about that day we met was different,” Randy said. “Even while she was away, my mind kept drifting back to her. It wasn’t intentional; it wasn’t our plan. God was working and driving us toward each other.”
When Susan returned, Randy asked if she would play racquetball with him. “I knew a little bit about the sport, but I let him teach me how to play,” she recalled with a laugh.
Later, they went for lunch and split a muffuletta. “We just talked forever,” Susan said. “I was getting ready for my next step in life, but I really liked him.”
She decided against going to Scotland. Instead, she enrolled at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Randy was one year ahead of her. They married one year after they met in 1986. They also managed to graduate at the same time in 1989.
Susan explained that she loved church from an early age. Her grandfather the Rev. Jack Sparling was a Methodist minister in the Texas Annual Conference. She grew up listening to stories about John Wesley and the circuit riders.
As a child, Susan asked her grandfather why there weren’t any women ministers. “You can be,” he replied. “You can be whatever you want.”
At the time, she did not know how prophetic those words were. She just knew that spending as much time at church as possible was her passion. She felt called to serve God at any moment – but she wasn’t sure exactly when or how that would come about.
Instead, Susan earned another undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Tyler and worked for the local newspaper. After graduating from seminary with Randy, she became a licensed local pastor, and he went on to be an ordained elder. “Our passion was following God and working in the church,” Susan said.
Randy stayed at Marvin UMC for four years and then was appointed as associate pastor at FUMC Lufkin. Susan started a job at the newspaper in Nacogdoches and then got an offer she couldn’t refuse -- to become executive director for U.M. ARMY. She jumped at the chance and also served as pastor for UMC Chireno.
Their daughter Kathryn was born and accompanied her mother at U.M. ARMY projects. The couple stayed in the area for three years, before moving to Grand Saline. Randy became the senior pastor at Grand Saline FUMC, and Susan founded a preschool at the church. In 1995, Randy was appointed to FUMC Hallsville.
“We were there for nine years, and we just loved it,” Randy said. “We loved the people.”
Susan served as pastor at both Danville and Cross Roads UMCs for about nine months and then joined as associate pastor at Hallsville, where she also started a preschool. Their son William was born – and turned 4 when the couple moved the Gateway Community Church in 2004.
“This church was always geared toward the unchurched,” Randy said. “It was a community church that appealed to those who had maybe been burned in the past. It has always been contemporary.”
Randy started a contemporary service in 1998 in Hallsville and was ready to dive into the come-as-you-are ministry. Susan, who favored more traditional worship, still was eager to be a part of this new setting. “At our church, people come knocking on our door,” she said. “It’s really exciting to be in a place where you feel like you wouldn’t be able to reach the same people in a traditional setting.”
While Susan was trying to settle into their new home, raise their active 4-year old son and their daughter, she received a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Not long after her surgery, she was diagnosed with lupus.
Still, Susan was able to join Gateway as a part-time pastor, which made it possible to spend more time raising their children and taking care of her symptoms related to lupus.
One of the most gratifying experiences at the church has been its Celebrate Recovery Program, a Christ-centered initiative helping individuals with addictions or who have hurt or pain of any kind. “It’s for anybody with hurts, habits and hang-ups,” Randy said.
Gateway also partners in the nonprofit Starfish Kenya, which helps children in the country impacted by poverty and the effects of AIDS. The church provides the primary support for the global mission and has transformed the lives of 330 children so far. Each year, Gateway’s Christmas offering goes to Starfish Kenya. “All dorms, their buildings, their farm has all been paid for by Gateway,” Susan said.
The church’s outreach, the small groups and Bible studies have expanded under the Hagemans’ leadership. “Our mission is simple – we’re leading people to live more like Jesus,” Randy said. “We just want to unleash God’s love. We're trying to lead people to faith, because we believe that’s where real transformation occurs.”
At the church, Randy and Susan each go about their own tasks. He oversees the church, and she focuses on women’s ministry. “Our positions are very different,” Randy said. “In some ways, our paths don’t even cross. But she comes to me with issues, and I go to her with questions.”
When they’re at home, they concentrate on family. Susan takes pride in being a mother and wife, just as she does with being a pastor. The organizational structure of the church allows Randy to spend more time at home than at other posts.
“One of the most satisfying things is that our daughter, now married with an 11-month old, is one of the small group leaders at our church,” Susan said.
William is now studying to become an engineer at Baylor University. During COVID-19, all three were staying at home. Daily Zoom meetings kept the church going. In September, in-person worship resumed. In the next few weeks, the church’s preschool will reopen.
“We’re slowly going back in,” Randy said. “It’s definitely a challenge. We continue to offer online services. Small groups still meet on Zoom.”
Through the years of working together, the Hagemans have learned to find a balance, between work and life. Following faith has made that journey simple, Susan added.
“For people who aren’t married, I think you should choose wisely and choose a Godly person, who wants to grow in faith,” she said. “Nothing’s more important than that. If you find someone who loves God, you can make it through a lot.”
Randy added that they both recognized the importance of their callings – and offered support to each other. “Each couple has to find their own balance,” he said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all. When you keep your eyes on the same goal, the same focus on God, it becomes easier to seek forgiveness and to forgive.”
It's not a competition, he explained. “It’s a journey together,” he said. “It’s a mistake when people think marriage is a contract. A contract can become null and void. A marriage is a covenant. It’s about the other, asking what’s better for them. It’s other-centered.”
God comes first, next each other and then the church. “Our best times are when those priorities have aligned,” Randy said. “Whatever is best for the kingdom, best for the family, best for the church, we figure it out.”
For more information, visit www.gateway-community.org