An Iranian whose family was forced to flee to Britain in the wake of the Revolution in 1980, has been announced as the first Bishop of Loughborough. Revd Canon Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani was 14 at the time and went on to attend Nottingham and Bristol Universities and was ordained in 1998. Canon Guli's father, Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was the first Iranian to serve as Bishop of Iran from 1961 until 1990, before his death in 2008.
As the first Bishop of Loughborough, Guli will take a full role in the work of the Church across Leicester and Leicestershire, but the post will also have a focus on supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clergy, lay workers and congregations in the county.
The Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave served in the Diocese of Leicester until 2004 and has close ties with the Dehqani family. Upon his consecration as Bishop of Woolwich in 2012, the family gave Bishop Michael the pastoral staff that had belonged to Canon Guli’s father. They also entrusted him with Bishop Hassan’s pectoral cross, which he is now passing on to the new Bishop.
Bishop Michael, who has travelled to Iran several times, said: “I am thrilled to offer Guli my warm congratulations on her appointment. I have worked closely with her over the years, and I know that she will enrich the episcopate of the Church of England through her distinctive gifts of spirituality, pastoral care and theological insight. It is wonderful to see her following as a bishop in the footsteps of her father Bishop Hassan. In his costly witness to the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation, and in his commitment to Christian-Muslim dialogue he was one of the great saints of the 20th century, and his ministry has been a tremendous inspiration to me” he said.
“It is significant that a woman with Iranian heritage has been appointed to this new post which has an important role to play in reaching out to multi-cultural communities in Leicestershire. As we pray for the faithful witness of the beleaguered Anglican church in Iran, in our own country we need more and more to become a truly welcoming and diverse church blessed by people from all backgrounds.”
"I'm very excited about the potential for this role which draws together several important themes in the current life of the Church," says Guli. "Whilst being a bishop for the whole diocese, it will be a particular joy and a privilege to learn from and draw out the rich resources of Christians from minority ethnic communities."
"Guli's rich understanding of the world Church, together with her experience of training and pastoral work in the UK, will be a huge asset to our diocese," said the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow. "I am looking forward to working with her as a close colleague and I know from my own experience that she and her family will receive a very warm welcome from the diverse communities of the city and county."
The mother-of-three - who prior to becoming a priest worked as a religious programmes producer for the BBC - is married to Canon Lee Francis-Dehqani, a team rector in the East Midlands.