Richard Bieber, The Pastor Who Saved My Faith and My Father’s Life — In Memoriam
It was June, 1972 and my father lay comatose in the Intensive Care Unit of Sinai hospital in Detroit, several days after ingesting a massive overdose of barbiturates. His kidneys had shut down and he was unresponsive to pain.
Richard (Dick) Bieber was two years younger than my dad, pastoring an eclectic congregation near downtown Detroit — drawing neighborhood people, young hippie Jesus-freaks from around the city, alcoholics from the fabled Cass Corridor, and professors from Wayne State University. They flocked to hear his short but captivating sermons at Messiah, what was once a sleepy Lutheran church.
In the weeks before the overdose, my father, a skeptic, distrusting of authority, of institutions, of groups, had been talking to Dick about faith, searching for some light in the throes of another depressive episode — symptom of his undiagnosed PTSD from combat in France as a young G.I. So Dick visited my dad in the ICU, spoke to him and prayed for him.
The nurse in the ICU said,
“Pastor, he can’t hear you. He’s in a deep coma.”
And that’s when my father decided to wake up.
“Thanks for coming, Dick.”
These were my father’s first words in several days.
The next day my sister, a lapsed Episcopalian, who wasn’t moved by my new-found religious enthusiasm, overheard the doctors on rounds talking about my father’s unexpected awakening. One of them said,
“It’s the closest thing to witchcraft I’ve ever seen”
My father had no ill effects from the overdose or the coma it induced — beyond a frozen shoulder. He spent a month in the psychiatric unit getting his bearings. When he came home, he started spending his days down at Messiah Lutheran Church making calls with Dick Bieber, stapling bulletins, doing whatever he could to help out. Dick Bieber, and the church he gathered, saved my father’s life, restored him to his right mind.