Dr. Richard Jeffrey Alberta
Brighton - Dr. Richard Jeffrey Alberta, a loyal husband and proud father whose conversion from atheism to Christianity inspired a significant following and made him a bedrock of the Brighton community, died Monday of a heart attack. He was 71.
Visitation will be held Thursday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church on Hilton Road. Funeral services will be held at the same location Friday at 11 a.m.
Born in Passaic, New Jersey on August 6, 1947, Richard was the fourth of five children to Frank Alberta, a Sicilian immigrant and restauranteur, and Betty Tillack. While playing football for Mahwah High School he met the love of his life, a spunky cheerleader named Donna Pastor, whose surname foreshadowed their serendipitous journey ahead.
Having joined the United States Marine Corps, only to be honorably discharged due to complications from tuberculosis, Richard enrolled in Rutgers University and studied finance, pre-law and political science. He married his high school sweetheart, who was also studying at Rutgers, and both ventured gamely into the workplace upon graduation, Richard pursuing a career in finance with law school on the horizon and Donna working for ABC Radio in New York.
Just as his professional career was reaching new heights, however, Alberta was hitting rock bottom. Depressed and gripped by anxiety, he agreed to attend a church service with his niece, Lynn. Alberta was an avowed atheist, having been raised in a broken and non-religious home. But he found unexpected comfort in the Gospel. Soon he found himself not only accepting Christ, becoming "born again" and evangelizing to his reluctant spouse, but flirting with the notion of entering the ministry himself. Friends and family thought him insane: He would be forsaking a lucrative career to move his wife and newborn son, Christopher, into seminary housing in the pursuit of a penniless vocation. Yet after feeling moved by the Lord, and with the support of his newly converted (and highly enthusiastic) wife, Alberta enrolled in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, where he earned a Masters of Divinity degree before earning his Doctor of Ministry degree from Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia.
Alberta's winding path as a clergyman—with stops in Oklahoma, New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere—ultimately led him to Michigan. After serving as an associate pastor at Ward Church in Livonia, he moved to Brighton in 1992 to become senior pastor of the recently planted Cornerstone EPC. Over the ensuing 25 years, Alberta's flock grew from several hundred to several thousand, and he established Cornerstone as one of Metro Detroit's most vibrant churches. Much of this growth owed quite manifestly to Alberta's renowned style in the pulpit, an effortless blend of Greek intellectualism, football metaphors and blond jokes aimed at the pastor's radiant wife. But he deflected all credit. "To God be the glory," Alberta would say.
Retiring at the end of 2018 after four decades of preaching, Alberta was looking forward to golfing, cruising in his convertible and spending time with his grandchildren. But he quickly grew restless—quitting his part-time job at The Majestic Golf Course three hours into his first shift—and felt compelled to continue his ministry. Alberta soon accepted the job of chaplain at the Woodland Village assisted living community, providing comfort and companionship to the elderly. He also kept busy communicating with believers around the world and sketching the outlines of a book he hoped to write on the Sermon on the Mount.
Alberta returned to the pulpit in Cornerstone on June 23 after being named the church's pastor emeritus. He delivered a message, "Four Things God Knows About You," meant to encapsulate the Christian faith: love, grace, faith and trust. It was the last sermon he would ever give.
Alberta is preceded in death by his mother and father, as well as by his oldest grandson, Henry Alberta.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Donna Alberta; his four sons, Christopher, Jonathan (Kristi), Brian (Stephanie) and Tim (Sweta); his grandchildren, Alexis, Norah, Madison, Gabriel, Tyler, Isaac, Abraham, Lewis, Miles, Brooks and Shea; and siblings Betty Lynn, Frank, Ted and Jack.
Per the wishes of Pastor Alberta, memorial donations should be made to the Livingston County Right to Life or the Pregnancy Help Clinic in Brighton. Please leave a message of comfort for the Alberta family at 1-877-231-7900, or sign his guestbook at www.borekjennings.com
Arrangements by Borek Jennings Funeral Home, Hamburg Chapel.
Published by Detroit Free Press & The Detroit News on Jul. 31, 2019.