Benz's Ministry Crossed All Walks, Generations Of Life

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August 28, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare

As one Marine blew "Taps," three others solemnly lifted the flag from the casket, folding it in triangles before handing it to the family.

In the distance, a little girl, sitting in the shade of a tree, sang "Amazing Grace," in tribute to her pastor, Wilbert H. "Bert" Benz.

The 47-year-old Hampstead minister and former Marine died April 19. Following a service at Westminster Baptist Church Friday, he was buried in Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Baltimore County.

A Marine salute, Scripture passages read by friends and a child's spontaneous song marked Benz's "home-going."

Wanting a celebration without mourning, Benz had selected the readings and the music months before hisdeath.

The unlikely mix of religion, military honors and a child's voice seemed appropriate for a man whose ministry crossed all walksof life and reached all generations.

"God gave him a pulpit that superseded anything we could imagine," said the Rev. Ron Fellemende, pastor of Gardenside Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. "A precious minister, he preached to folk from that majestic, expansive pulpit."

The two ministers became friends during Benz's six-week hospitalization at the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington. Fellemende, who traveledto the county for Friday's service, said his congregation was inspired and amazed at the support that followed Benz to Kentucky.

"The switchboards at our church and at the hospital would ring constantly with inquiries about the man from Carroll County, Maryland," he said.

Faith Baptist Deacon Gary W. Bauer wasn't surprised at the outpouring of concern from close friends and relative strangers. The scope of Benz's ministry only increased as he battled leukemia for the pastyear, he said.

"He showed everyone how a Christian handles life and death," he said. "He proved that belief in Jesus Christ can get you through anything."

Although he accepted his illness as God's will and never voiced regrets or self-pity, Benz remained resolute in his fight for life. He opted for a risky bone marrow transplant with marrow donated by his 12-year-old daughter.

His congregation and many others joined the battle, conducting blood drives and fund-raising activities. He remained ever grateful for all their help, often calling his thanks to strangers.

Esther P. Lynn of Westminster, who received one of those calls, attended the funeral.

"I'm a Methodist among all these Baptists," she said with a laugh. "But I had to come."

Joyce Mather of Finksburg called her minister everyone's friend. She last saw him at a fund-raising dinner in June.

"The money didn't mean a thing to him," she said. "He told me he was just glad to have a chance to be with his old friends one more time."

The Rev. Rudy Tidwell came to minister at Faith Baptist at Benz's request. He related several stories from their 20 years of friendship. Benz was so full of joy and laughter, he said, that a simple handshake usually became a great bear hug.

"That overriding joy in the Lord saw him through his suffering," he said. "A big current flowed through him, andthat current was love of the Lord."

A man who saw opportunities, not problems, Benz's heart also burned with a dream for Faith Baptist, Tidwell said.

Until the congregation can build its new church, services are held at Hampstead Elementary. Benz envisioned a new church, as a center open every day for day care, the elderly and youth.

Tidwell said he is determined to keep his friend's dream alive.

"God is glorified this morning," said Tidwell to more than 400 people gathered for the funeral. "Bert and the Lord are an unbeatable combination."

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