Interview with a Celebrant: Jann-Michelle Summers

Jann-Michelle Celebrant Kent


This month we’re delighted to introduce you to Jann-Michelle Summers, Independent Celebrant and the owner of Olive Tree Celebrant. Jann-Michelle is based in Kent and she completed both our Funeral and Wedding Celebrant training in 2023. She brings a profound level of compassion and amazing listening skills to the role. Dinah awarded Jann-Michelle a Distinction for both the Funeral and Wedding training. This was the first time this was achieved by a Graduate.

Jann-Michelle Celebrant from Kent

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

Hello Dinah, thank you so much for inviting me for an interview about being a celebrant. It is always a pleasure to spend some time with you in an official or personal compacity.  Since our first training session you made a huge impact on my life. From your skills, compassion, and that Dinah way of making me believe in myself.

What made you decide to become an Independent Celebrant?

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

Grief is such a personal and unique emotion that you cannot compare your grief to another person’s.  I once read that grief is like becoming a member of an exclusive club that no-one wants to be in.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotion of grief after the loss of my mother, father, sister-in-law, and close friend all within nine months in 2019. It was one of the most difficult times of my life so far.

I attended the funerals of each loved-one. Two of the funerals were just four weeks apart. The services were delivered by Celebrants. I was left with a feeling that I did not understand. I wanted to be that person officiating the service. It felt like a calling. Something connected within me so strongly. And at the time I did not even know these people were Celebrants, and you could train to be one.

After four years, that feeling never went away.

Within this time, Covid impacted in every corner of the world. Changing our day-to-day life beyond anything we ever could have imagined.  I felt so very grateful that I had been able to attend the funerals of my loved ones in person. We’d been able to gather with family and friends to celebrate and grieve in a safe place. It deeply sadden me hearing of the impact on friends that had lost loved ones during Covid and the limitations imposed.

I could not truly begin to imagine how this must have felt. And the impact on their grieving process this must have had. The calling to train as a Celebrant grew stronger. From my extensive research over the years, I now just needed to decide which training was right for me. The universe guided me to Dinah.

What skills do you think you bring to the role?

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

My career has always been in supporting others. Working for Social Services supporting people with drug and alcohol struggles and children going into the care system.  From my own personal story of being one of those children, I felt that I could undertake my job with a true understanding of the impact it has on their life.  I have always been a people-person. Being able to communicate at any level with the ethos of ‘don’t judge others until you have walked a mile in their shoes’.

I am one of those people that physically feels others’ emotions. Especially in times of sadness. I will go out of my way to help wherever I can. Even if it’s just an offering of a cuppa and a space for people to talk and me to listen.  

So, in answer to your question Dinah, I feel these skills were important in becoming an Independent Celebrant. The death of a loved one can be such a difficult time for families. There are so many things to be done and funeral arrangements is just one thing from an extensive list.  By being a Celebrant, I have the skills to make a difference and act as a lifeboat for the family. 

I want to say:

“it’s ok I have you all safe and secure within the lifeboat, as we go through the journey of remembering the wonderous things your loved one did, writing a script that is personal and meaningful.

Taking away the worry of updating everyone else involved in the funeral process, the seas begin to calm for the family. One by one everyone is able to leave the safety of the lifeboat. To tread on firmer ground again, albeit still a little battered by the waves.

But that’s ok, because I am not going anywhere for a while. I will still be supporting you through the weeks after the funeral.”

It is not just the privilege of being asked to conduct the service. For me it is the honour of the family letting you in at their darkest time. Recording a story that needs to be heard and respected. I truly hope my life skills ensure that I listen to every story, said, and unsaid.

Jann-Michelle Celebrant

I know that your first ceremony was a naming ceremony, can you tell us a little about that?

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

Dinah, how lucky was I that my new business Olive Tree Celebrant started with celebrating a new life?  Was I scared, yes, I could hear you, Dinah, saying ‘You’ve got this’.

On the second Zoom call with both parents, I was left in no doubt that they did not want anything fussy. ‘Just turn up do your thing and we can carry on celebrating’, their actual words. This left me in a dilemma, it’s my first service I want to make an impression as a Celebrant.

Then I remembered my training ‘it is not about YOU’. 

So, I crafted my questionnaire to be able to gather all the information I needed about the family and their story as I knew I only had one chance at this. 

 I wrote a twenty-minute service including grandparents, godparents, and parents. With their Promises to make, along with two elder siblings that I felt was so important to include them in some way. 

Now this ceremony was to be delivered in a pub restaurant whilst other members of the public were dinning. Somehow I had to make it meaningful and personal.  Was I nervous? Yes! Especially when an announcement was made: ‘if you need the loo go now as this lady is going to do her thing in a minute’….I was now petrified!

I delivered my ceremony, over the noise of other people dinning and at the end was thanked for coming and everyone went back to celebrating, I left feeling somewhat disillusioned and feeling like I failed.

I could not have been more wrong. The next day I received an email from the mother stating’ Just to say Jann I’ve had celebrants before, and you went above and beyond your service with all the extra touches. The ceremony was just as we wanted, and you made it extra special for us all’.

I learnt the biggest lesson I could ever have learnt that evening in becoming a Celebrant, never presume things about people and their expectations of you.

I managed to honour the family wishes without compromising my own set of values but most importantly I stayed true to myself as an Independent Celebrant.

You’ve only recently completed your training. How are you planning to promote your new venture?

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

OMG Dinah this is a difficult question!  As I have never really been a social media user, I look at all the wonderful things people create and think how do they do that? I often feel overwhelmed by all the social media content. So, I needed to find a different avenue that works for me.

My first tip would be to join the AOIC (Association of Independent Celebrants). As a member you have never-ending access to resources, CPD training, support, your own profile as well as providing you with liability insurance and so much more.  This is a great way to start your journey on promoting your business, especially after attending the AOIC Conference in October 2023. I made some fantastic connections with other Celebrants and businesses that dovetail with the work of a Celebrant.

My second tip would be to join a local networking group, you will be surprised how many there are in your local area. It is important to find the right one for you.  I visited every networking group in my area as a guest to see who suited me the best.  For me it was the WIBN (Women in Business Network), but there are so many other great networking groups to choose from, some people I know are members of several groups.

A networking group can help with the isolation of working for yourself

It’s a great way to hear about other people and their struggles and successes in having their own business.  It gives you a sense of belonging as well as access to so many people that you can promote your business with.

From being a member of WIBN I have recently been asked to give presentations at Care Homes to  talk about death and funeral choices. This came from another member that owns a group of homes within Kent. Although this is voluntary, the realisation of what it gives you back is priceless.  Helps with your speaking in public and tunes your listening skills. You hear the most amazing life stories, but most of all it connects you to your local community and the people that live and work within it.

When you are a new Celebrant, it can be difficult to get a foot in the door of Funeral Directors. They are proud and professional people that take pride in the service they offer to the community. I made a mistake of talking to one FD stating all the things that were great about me. I should have started with all the things that were great about them. Really do your research on the Funeral Directors you are going to visit. Know everything there is to know about them and the services they offer and the communities they serve. 

Jann-Michelle Celebrant Kent

You completed both our Funeral and Wedding Celebrant training. Can you share a highlight from each course – something you loved or felt touched by?

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

Oh Dinah I can honestly say I enjoyed every module of the Funeral course. I was totally taken a back at just how much content there was to learn and how you unselfishly give so much of your ideas and own work within this course. What I studied and learnt was far bigger than I ever imagined on becoming an Independent Celebrant. But it goes without saying you set the bar high on your training and the values of being in the privileged position to be an Independent Celebrant.

Now the Wedding course for me was different. I struggled with at first, and I kept bordering on feeling like I was being a Wedding Planner rather than a Wedding Celebrant and couldn’t seem to shift the boundaries between the two.  Dinah, you just reassured me that on the third module it will click, and I will be able to differentiate between them.  How right you were by the end of the third modules homework I had got it, I suddenly understood it.  Dinah’s belief in me and her well written course content naturally brought out the Wedding Celebrant in me that I never know was there.

What I felt touched by the most in both training courses, was how Dinah instinctively knew how to bring out the best in me. She totally understood who I was far more than I did about myself.  I never felt like just another graduate, we had some real in-depth conversations on what being a Celebrant means.  The biggest and most important thing I learnt was, ‘it is not about YOU’, we are there to care, support and provide a personal and meaningful script to each family we serve without prejudice.  It is their love story, their grief and their loved one.

What type of ceremony would you love to create – if there were no limits on time or budget? 

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

Wow, great question! All ceremonies we create are a privilege to be asked to do, it is the Funeral Ceremonies that I still feel called to the most. But close to my heart would be ceremonies for children that have found the love of a family through either long term fostering or adoption. To be able to write a script and deliver a ceremony that celebrates and marks such a special life event in a child’s life. A new family has chosen to love them unconditionally. To provide protection, warmth and an opportunity to seek and find the potential of the wonderous adult they will become through being wanted and a given a safe environment.

What top tip would you give to anyone exploring the idea of training as an Independent Celebrant?

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

The fact that you are exploring the idea of training as an Independent Celebrant means something has sparked that journey.  Do your research before deciding on the right course for you, it is not a given that once you have trained the work will come rolling in.  You will have other Celebrants in your area that have worked hard on building their business and reputation. It takes time to build YOUR business and reputation.  A lot of Celebrants hold down another profession, it all depends on your personal circumstances.

Becoming an Independent Celebrant is a lifelong achievement, and there is no retirement age.  It is something you can do for as long as you want to. Stay knowledgeable with continuous CPD training available to you, things do change so this is important.   It takes time to build your brand, be patient stay true to yourself and it will happen. I honestly feel immense pride saying I am an Independent Celebrant and the journey it has taken me on, along with all the amazing people I have met along the way.

What I have learnt since becoming an Independent Celebrant

Jann-Michelle, Celebrant:

I have learnt that being an Independent Celebrant can bring so much more than writing and delivering ceremonies.  It is an opportunity to become a trusted member within the community you work and live in by getting to know the area you serve and be able to give something back. Research what resources there are for homeless, vulnerable people, local churches, libraries, places offering warm hubs.  What skills do you have as a person that you could offer voluntary to help.  Everyone has something to offer. You have trained as an Independent Celebrant, so you have empathy, writing skills, listening skills and so much more. Even if it’s making tea and having a chat with someone that is lonely or supporting your local homeless shelter setting up for the evening, it really does make a difference to others.

Don’t do this to promote your business. People will naturally learn about you and what you do when your time is given in a genuine way. Do this to learn about the people you share your community with, the problems they face. This truly gives you a deeper understanding and connection to the families you will work with. It helps you to remain focused on why you became an Independent Celebrant and the responsibilities it brings.

Thank you Jann for your wonderful interview.
You can find Jann on her website
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