Linda Giardelli was born an intensely spiritual person who felt uniquely connected to God. She has always lived a very rich and full life but it was fraught with hardships and pain. As she navigated through her life, she found that she was drawn to a very unique path for a woman…Linda wanted to be a minister. When the moment was right, and everything fell into place, she followed her calling and became a minister of the Church of the Universal Brotherhood. Since her ordination, she has administered the sacrament of marriage to hundreds of loving couples.
Linda was raised a Roman Catholic in New Orleans and married at the age of 19. It was in the late 60’s, a time when society was very different. She had a very strict upbringing; her father was Catholic and her mother was Baptist. She was dutiful and followed the teachings of the church but was never quite satisfied spiritually. “I knew things and witnessed things from the time I was a little girl..I prayed and things would happen. I was deeply connected to God,” she said. Linda saw her mother have a terrible accident in the kitchen one day, a severe burn resulted from a pie that was dropped coming out of the oven. “I saw her skin bubble up and she was in agony. I ran outside and fell to my knees, asking God to help my mother, and after my prayer I knew that she was going to be OK. I felt it so deeply and was filled with peace. I came inside and reassured her. She healed without the slightest scar, without any evidence of what had happened that day. My faith and my spirituality grew deeper as I witnessed other miraculous things throughout my life,” Linda said.
Linda felt the calling to join a ministry very early on but during that time, it was unheard of and frowned upon for a woman to be a member of the cloth. So she kept her desire a secret but always imagined that one day she would fulfill her dream. Her marriage only lasted seven years, but the union resulted in two wonderful, dearly loved children. Becoming a divorced woman in those days was extreme. Regardless of circumstances, you were expected to work it out and stay together. Linda’s very strict upbringing and the teachings of the church haunted her, but she knew she could not remain in the marriage. To complicate matters even further, Linda was now a single parent.
Being a single parent in the 70’s was terribly difficult. “It was truly a man’s world, but I had to make a living, I had two children to support and I was not going to let them down. Even things like renting an apartment, divorced women were not trusted especially with kids,” Linda said. But this gutsy woman never gave up and found a position in sales, while earning a degree in Business. She worked very hard and eventually secured a great job with R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company as a factory representative. Next she worked for Panasonic Company and then Kenwood Electronics. Linda went toe to toe with “the boys” and made a very fine life for herself and her children. “It was very hard being on my own for all those years, divorce is not an easy thing but I believe that God wants us to live in a harmonious, blissful state. Dysfunction does not reflect God’s love,” she said.
Today, Linda is the proud mother of three adult children who are realizing their dreams as they are currently pursuing careers at regional universities. Not only do her children actively pursue academic goals, but they also write, cook and play music professionally. Speaking with great admiration and pride for their many accomplishments, she said, “I have always encouraged my children to follow their dreams and choose their own journey. I have taught them that the most valuable things in life are the invisible things, the things we cannot see in a person. Integrity, honesty, character, moral fiber…the things that live within the heart and soul.” Each of her children are currently in committed, long-term relationships (one married and two engaged) but no grandchildren as of yet – Linda is anxiously awaiting that day.
Linda Giardelli respects all belief systems but she is not a proponent of organized religion. When she was ordained she was asked about the name of her church. She answered that should she erect her own church one day, that it will be called “Channels of Light Ministry.” Linda believes that each and everyone of us should be a channel of light for someone in need. During the last four years of her life, Linda’s mother lived with she and her husband, Richard because she was too ill to be alone and needed round the clock care. She suffered with several different diseases, and then developed dementia. Linda had no help and was never able to have time away. The doctors were very concerned for Linda’s welfare but she felt it was a gift to be the full time caretaker and no matter what she had to do, she did it with love, gentleness and grace. “I have no regrets and as difficult as it was, I would do it again without hesitation,” Linda said.
During the time that Linda took care of her mother, she knew it was the time for her to pursue her dream of becoming a minister. One morning she awoke to feel such a powerful message of what she needed to do, and now was the time. “I so clearly heard the message from God that day. I was to do whatever I had to do in order to become a minister and help those that cannot belong,” she said. Linda also found great solace and peace in her studies. She was still able to work part time in the early stages of her mother’s illnesses but soon she was unable to leave her home. The only way to achieve her goal was to study online. Linda found exactly what she was looking for, it was the perfect fit. The Church of the Universal Brotherhood, which is a nondenominational church out of Cocoa Beach, Florida, welcomed her with open arms.
Linda was ordained in Lafayette, Louisiana with her husband, Richard in attendance. White sage is a Native American herb that represents purification. The white sage was lit during the ceremony and numerous candles illuminated the room. Linda wore a pastel pink suit with pink pearls. “I was still unsure about what I would be doing, but I knew the answer would be revealed to me, and it was,” Linda said.
Almost immediately, Linda was besieged by requests for her appearance at funerals, weddings, blessings for infants, vow renewals, and prison ministries. She was incredibly busy and her spirit was full of joy. Next she became a faithful member of The Elks Lodge, Biloxi. She felt the message coming through loud and clear one day that she should drop by. “I have never been a shy person, I just get right out there,” Linda said with a laugh. She just received the Officer of the Year Award after being a member for only two years, she was absolutely delighted by the surprise. Linda also served as the Lodge Chaplain for the first year, and is now “Loyal Knight” which means she is 3rd in command. “There has never been a lady in charge before…it is such an honor to be an officer of the Elks,” she added.
The Elks give more scholarships, second only to the United States government, which is a fact that seldom know about. This month, the Elks sponsor “Youth in Government” which is a wonderful program that coordinates the high schools with the city government. It begins with a breakfast for the city officials and directors of the police and fire departments of D’Iberville and Biloxi. Afterward the youth will shadow the city officials for the day. Linda Giardelli is at the helm of everything the Elks do and has many plans for the future. “I think God put me here to shake things up a bit. If you listen closely, you will hear what He wants you to do and where He wants you to be,” she said.
Uniting loving couples in matrimony is Linda’s favorite part of her ministry. She marries couples from the very young to the elderly, regardless of religious preferences or how different the union may be. Linda has traveled great distances to administer the sacrament of marriage but quite often the desired locale is on the beach just minutes away from her home. Another option available for the ceremony is a beautiful private garden in Linda’s backyard.
Linda has a brief meeting with the couple prior to the wedding day to gather information about them in order to create a very personal affair. She writes every ceremony, and creates a custom ceremony for each couple. “I have honestly never used my minister book because it just doesn’t address everyone and their unique individualism. Everyone is on a different journey and they just want to be married,” she said.
People are as different as night and day. There are almost limitless reasons why couples come to Linda Giardelli to perform their marriages, and she is always so happy to oblige. “I never pass judgment, I do not require 6 weeks of counseling or any of the other criteria that many organized religions deem necessary. The only thing I will not do, is be involved in anything that I believe to be evil,” she said. If children will be part of the union, Linda insists on bringing them into the ceremony in a meaningful way, something very special just for the family. Simple promises are incorporated into the wedding, that are shared with each family member. Quite often a small trinket, something symbolic, is given to the child which becomes a beloved treasure and memento of the occasion. It is a very beautiful moment shared by everyone.
Linda never says the traditional words, “who gives this women in marriage” because it represents the old adage of property. She is very progressive in her thoughts and how she writes the vows. When couples come to her and want to be married, she must see a license and proof of their identities. When Linda signs the marriage license, it is legal and binding.
Gay marriages are not legal in Mississippi but Linda has performed countless Commitment ceremonies. “They have as much right to declare their love and commitment to one another as any heterosexual couple…it is not a problem for me, we are all equal in the eyes of God,” Linda said. Interracial marriages are also welcomed. “Once upon a time this subject was totally taboo which was such a ridiculous waste of time. I will always celebrate and honor the love between two people, it pleases God and therefore it pleases me,” She embraces all kinds of belief systems and respects all choices.
Linda has married people all hours of the day and night. She is all too happy to accommodate couples that show up at her door and want to be wed, however she prefers a phone call first. Her fee is $100.00 to prepare and perform the ceremony, but she will accept less if it is a true hardship for the couple to pay. The weddings that Linda has presided over have gone from the smallest and most laid back ceremonies to the most elaborate and grand. A library of photographs illustrate the hundreds of brides and grooms that Linda has joined together in marriage. In the beginning, couples found Linda by word of mouth. Thanks to her future daughter in law, Linda now has a website that has increased her business even further. “This is my calling and God put me on this path for a reason. I will do just about anything to help people and bring joy into their lives,” Linda said.
*For more information contact the Rev. Linda Giardelli @ 228-435-9877 or 228-229-5605 or e-mail her @ firstname.lastname@example.org