April 2, 2015

Nonprofit’s cemetery and funeral services are a ministry

In the last two years, Spokane has seen a change in its cemetery and funeral services with the growth of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane (CFCS), a reconfiguration of Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane.

It is still the only faith-based, mission-driven, nonprofit, charitable funeral and cemetery service in Spokane, said John Fencik, director of CFCS.

This ministry, which includes Holy Cross, St. Joseph and Queen of Peace Cemeteries and Funeral Centers, is available to Christians whether they are active members of a parish, inactive or alienated, non-Catholic family members or others who wish to be buried in these cemeteries.

John and funeral director Greg Finch see their work as ministry, because they help families cope with the reality of death.

CFCS, founded originally as Holy Cross Cemetery Association in 1931, provides education, support and professional services to people in Eastern Washington.

Bishop Blase Cupich, former Bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, along with John and Greg, was instrumental in developing this funeral ministry in recent years.

Because it is a nonprofit, they decided not to build a large funeral home at one of its cemeteries, but to use space within its existing buildings and to begin a “Care Center Model” of business.

To care for the deceased, CFCS entered into a shared services agreement with a small funeral center in town. The agreement gives Greg access to a building with a crematory, a preparation room and a controlled temperature environment.

This building is now the “Care Center” where Greg does the embalming, temporary preservation, cremation, dressing, casketing and cosmetics.

In addition, he meets with families at one of the three CGCS cemetery offices, which have rooms for viewing caskets and urns for cremains, as well as facilities for funerals and memorials.

When Greg meets with families, he guides them and suggests appropriate ceremonies, coordinates and conducts various services, and becomes a main source of support and comfort to grieving families.

“Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services provides a sacred place for the burial of members of the body of Christ, just as the women and men cared for and buried Jesus after his death,” said Greg, who ties his work into his faith as a Catholic.

“We provide not only quality services but also personal attention to families ensuring that the services chosen represent the lives lived by their loved ones,” he said.

CFCS assists not only when a person dies but also offers counseling to help people prepare in advance for their own funeral services.

“It can be difficult to negotiate services with a grieving family,” John said. “It’s a gift to the family to know the person’s wishes will be honored if the funeral preparations are pre-planned.”

Pre-planning relieves families of financial and other burdens at the time of death when they are usually stressed.

Greg said that he went into the funeral business after working in law enforcement, because he wanted to help people.

“I wanted to give back. I felt that working as a funeral director would provide opportunities to assist families through difficult times,” he said. “I feel that it is not a job but a privilege to work with the deceased and their families, because I have the chance to treat them as I would want to be treated if I were burying a loved one.”

Greg holds degrees in psychology, and law and justice from Central Washington University. After serving a one-year apprenticeship in Yakima, he obtained his Washington State Funeral Directors License.

“Because I see what I do as a ministry, I am available to support families,” he said. “When people walk into my office, they often look lost. I treat them with love and compassion, and by the time they leave they are holding their heads a little higher.”

Because CFCS is mission-driven, it operates differently than a for-profit corporation, said Greg, who has also worked in for-profit services and corporations.

“There is a difference, because what we do is a ministry,” he said. “Being a funeral director is not a 9-to-5 job.”

Availability is a major part of the ministry.

“I can be called at any time of the day or night. Sometimes I work an 18- to 20-hour day, and other times I might have nothing to do except catch up on paper work,” Greg said. “The long days are worth it, though, when I receive cards of appreciation, as well as hugs.”

As the cemetery director, John oversees the day-to-day operations of the funeral services and cemeteries of CFCS. He has a master of divinity and a master in biblical studies. He was a diocesan priest for 18 years in the Rockville Diocese in New York.

As a former priest, he is prepared to meet with families because he presided at funerals and wakes, met with the sick as a hospital chaplain, and journeyed with patients and their families during the dying process.

In addition, he taught in Catholic and private schools for 40 years, as well as working with adult faith-formation.

Because of his teaching background, he is able to go to parishes and other institutions to educate members about the liturgical practices of the Catholic Church related to end of life or cremation, and the church’s traditions related to funerals.

“Since Vatican II, many people have not been taught about the church’s view on funerals, especially cremation. At one time cremation was not accepted by the church,” he said.

He often attends RCIA preparation classes to share this information with those seeking membership in the Catholic Church.

Like Greg, John sees his work as a ministry first and business last.

As a charitable organization and ministry in the Diocese of Spokane, CFCS offers options for end-of-life services that ensure that no one is turned away for lack of money, allowing families the opportunity to honor their loved ones in the most meaningful way.

Not being responsible to shareholders, CFCS said any profits made are put back into the corporation to pay for the services for families in need, for cremains that remain unclaimed and for burial of children.

“When unclaimed cremains are buried, they are not just put in the ground. There is a service often led by the bishop. All the staff members at CFCS attend the service, because everyone needs to be shown dignity and respect,” John said.

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