THE next Bishop of Chelmsford is to be Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, at present the Bishop of Loughborough in the diocese of Leicester, Downing Street announced on Thursday.
She succeeds the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, who was confirmed as Archbishop of York in July after his nomination exactly a year ago (News, 10 July; 20 December 2019), and would become the C of E’s only serving BAME diocesan bishop. (The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, functions in many ways as a diocesan, although she is a suffragan to the Archbishop of Canterbury.)
Dr Francis-Dehqani said this week: “It is a great privilege to be appointed as the next Bishop of Chelmsford. I know there are many challenges ahead both in the Church and wider society, not least as a result of the pandemic. However, I am hopeful about the future.”
Dr Francis-Dehqani was born in Iran, where her father, the late Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was the first Iranian Anglican bishop and the first President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.
After a failed assassination attempt in 1979, when armed men broke into his house and shot and wounded his wife, Margaret, Bishop Dehqani-Tafti temporarily left Iran. In 1980, the couple sought refuge in Britain, bringing their three daughters, including Dr Francis-Dehqani, then a teenager, with them.
Dr Francis-Dehqani, who is 54, worked as a religion producer for the BBC before training for the ministry from 1995 to 1998. After a curacy in the diocese of Southwark, she worked as a music-college and school chaplain for two years.
She is married to Canon Lee Francis-Dehqani, currently Priest-in-Charge of the Benefice of Fosse in Leicester. After a career break to raise their three children, Dr Francis-Dehqani became a Curate Training Officer and Adviser for Women’s Ministry in the diocese of Peterborough in 2011, then the first Bishop of Loughborough in 2017 (News, 14 July 2017). The bishopric was set up partly to lead mission and engagement with ethnic-minority communities across the diocese, which is one of the most diverse in the Church (News, 17 February 2017).
Dr Francis-Dehqani is also currently vice-president of the Conference of European Churches, and vice chair of the Church Army.
The selection process for Chelmsford was carried out entirely remotely, as will be Dr Francis-Dehqani’s introduction to the diocese. She said: “I’m very much looking forward to visiting Essex and East London in the New Year, to meeting people face to face and discussing how we build on the outstanding work that our churches have done to support their communities during the pandemic.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury said of her appointment: “Her love for the local church, combined with her international experience and commitment to justice, will be a gift to this diverse and exciting diocese.”
Archbishop Cottrell said: “Guli will bring to the exciting diversity of the Chelmsford diocese her breadth of vision, her international experience, her love of the gospel, her pastoral heart, and her passion for justice. East London and Essex have an exciting new bishop.”
The Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, who is currently the Acting Bishop of Chelmsford, said that he was “privileged and excited” to welcome Dr Francis-Dehqani on behalf of the diocese.
The Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, who chairs the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, said: “Her appointment is very significant as a BAME appointment to a major See in the Church of England and in one of England’s largest dioceses by geography. . . CMEAC has called for greater inclusion of BAME clergy and laity in senior leadership roles and we see this is a positive sign.
“We are aware that there is still much to be done in this area and we look forward to working with Bishop Guli and our Archbishops in supporting BAME candidates into senior leadership within the life of our Church.”