HAMPSTEAD -- Marian Palmer's eyes were a little puffy and red when she left the Faith Baptist Church service in Carroll County yesterday. Twisting a well-used tissue, she said she was now confident the minister would be returning to the church.
The Rev. Bert Benz, after hugging about 100 people, was on his way to Lexington, Ky., for a bone marrow transplant.
Mr. Benz was diagnosed as having leukemia in August during a routine physical. The search for a bone marrow donor through both a United States registry and similar programs in Europe was fruitless, so doctors in Lexington will be transplanting marrow from his 12-year-old daughter, Lauren.
But she's not a perfect match. Of the six factors in a perfect match, Lauren's marrow has four.
During yesterday's church service for Mr. Benz's Hampstead XTC congregation, it seemed he was the only person not concerned about the operation or the doctors' warning that he has only a 40 percent chance of a successful transplant.
"A lot of people have said that it's a facade, but this is how I am," said the tall, energetic, 47-year-old minister. "I know that this might be my last sermon, but I'm hopeful."
Mr. Benz preached yesterday at Hampstead Elementary School. The Faith Baptist congregation is using its cafeteria for services temporarily pending construction of a church complex.
"We have not gathered to worship God and say 'good-bye' to each other, but rather to worship God and say to each other, 'We'll see you after a while,' " the preacher said.
He explained to church members that chemotherapy will make his hair fall out, although he expected it to grow back.
"But when it grows back, sometimes it's a different color," he joked. "I'll take any color but gray."
His listeners shifted uneasily in the brown folding chairs at times during the sermon when Mr. Benz touched on the possibility that he may not be back.
At the end of the sermon, 8-year-old Michael Henry ran up and hugged the minister.
Later, when Michael was asked if the minister would be back in Faith Baptist's pulpit again, the youngster nodded with his whole body, back and forth, and said, "Yes."
Mr. Benz hopes to return from Kentucky Oct. 15 to his Hampstead home, not only for the sake of his wife, Linda, and their two daughters who will accompany him to Lexington, but for the members of his church.
If his year-long recuperation goes well, he will preach his next sermon in the fall of 1992 -- and he hopes it will be in the new church.