Even in the face of death, the Rev. Wilbert H. "Bert" Benz Jr. foundthe strength to joke and smile.

The 47-year-old pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Hampstead died in August after battling chronic myelogenic leukemia for about a year.

In the last effort to save his life, Benz traveled to Lexington, Ky., to try to replace his diseased bone marrow with some donated by his 12-year-old daughter, Lauren.

But Benz will be remembered not for the failure of this operation but for the strength with which he faced his illness.

"Here is a man who, for 25 years, has been a pastor and has preached to others that no matter how difficult a situation you face, your Christian faith will see you through," the Rev. Rudy Tidwell said a month before Benz's death. "Bert at this point is looking death in the face and laughing."

Tidwell, who moved to Carroll from Alabama to assist Benz in leading the congregation during the operation, took over as pastor after Benz died.

A Florida native, Benz was beloved by parishioners and countians for his gregarious manner and unselfish community service.

Chairman of the Carroll County Advisory Council of Mental Health and Addictions, Benz also served on various committees of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware and was director of evangelism of the Central Baptist Association of Southern Baptist Churches.

"We miss him," Tidwell said. "It's been very difficult, but we're dealing with the loss and making adjustments. God's been good to us and we're looking to the future."

The congregation -- which meets at Hampstead Elementary School -- is continuing with Benz's dream of building a sanctuary on Harvey GummelRoad. In addition to being used for services, the church in Benz's vision would house a day-care center for children and medically disabled adults.

"It's sort of a mixing of generations," he had said of the project. "It's the same concept as adopt-a-grandparent, like in nursing homes."

The center also would ensure that church members were helping the community, not just visiting the building on Sundays and letting it stand empty for most of the week.

"A church should be a hospital for sinners and not a hall of fame for saints," Benz said.

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