A woman born in Iran was consecrated in Canterbury November 30, with a remit to serve communities in one of the United Kingdom’s most ethnically diverse areas. The Rt. Rev. Guli Francis-Dehqani takes the helm as Bishop of Loughborough (in the Diocese of Leicester), a new suffragan see created with this purpose.
Francis-Dehqani, 51, brings to the post the experience of coming to the U.K. when her family fled persecution in Iran. “I have a sense of what it is to be on the margins, and the work it takes to find a sense of belonging,” she told reporters.
Her service of consecration witnessed to her family story. Her late father, the Rt. Rev. Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was Bishop of Iran during the Iranian revolution of 1978-79. He was the first Iranian-born Anglican bishop, and the first president bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.
There was an attempt on his life and on the life of his wife, Margaret. His secretary, Jean Waddell, a Scot, was seriously wounded in an attack. Later she was imprisoned and released following the intervention of Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy.
Shortly before the Dehqani-Tafti family fled the country, her 24-year-old brother, Bahram, was killed in the revolution’s violence. He is remembered in a book of saints and martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral, close to the spot where his sister became a bishop.
Preacher at the consecration was the retired Bishop of Iran, the Rt. Rev. Iraj Motahedeh, who succeeded her father. He was for 15 years the only Anglican priest in Iran and spent time in prison as the revolution took its toll on the tiny Anglican community.
During the service, Bishop Guli’s eldest son, Gabriel, played cello for “Variations on Bahram’s Memory.”
“In a sense, the Church has been talking about it for 20 to 30 years, and we haven’t really seen the changes that we should have done,” the bishop said about ministry to ethnic minorities. “We are still living with the legacy of the 1950s and ’60s, when we got it badly wrong and we did not offer a welcome to immigrants.”
It was not good enough simply to hope or even to pray for change, she said. It is time for the church to take some risks and do “things that might make us feel quite uncomfortable” to increase ethnic-minority representation, she said.
At the last census, in 2011, 15 percent of people in Britain, or one in seven, reported that they were from an ethnic minority.
Before her ordination the new bishop worked as a religion producer for the BBC. She served a curacy in South London and then worked as a school chaplain. She took a career break to raise her three children (now 12, 12, and 17). From 2011 she worked in a training role in the Diocese of Peterborough. She represented the diocese on the General Synod beginning in 2012 and is married to the Rev. Canon Lee Francis-Dehqani, team rector of Oakham.
She brings the number of ethnic-minority bishops in the church up from three to four. When the Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt. Rev. Karowei Dorgu, was consecrated in March, he became the first person from an ethnic minority to join the College of Bishops since 2002, when the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt. Rev. David Hamid, was appointed.
Bishop Francis-Dehqani becomes a rare third-generation bishop. Her maternal grandfather, William Thompson, was Bishop in Iran from 1935 to 1960.
There is an interesting missionary side story to the Iranian revolution: Protestant missions worked in Iran (Persia) for a century up to the 1980s revolution. They saw only tiny results. But as Iranians fled for refuge in Western cities such as New York, Melbourne, Sydney, and British provincial towns, many more have come to the Christian faith than in the entire previous century.