29 November 2017
Abigail Frymann Rouch
Diverse interests: the first Church of England woman Bishop from an ethnic minority background
The first Church of England woman bishop from an ethnic minority background wants to celebrate the diversity of her flock, she tells Abigail Frymann Rouch of her traumatic flight from her native Iran after the Revolution.
Canon Guli Francis-Dehqani reaches behind a chair in the crowded family music room-cum-study, and picks up a large picture frame. In it is a pastel-striped pillowcase, with in the middle, an arc of four bullet holes. In 1979 Iranian revolutionaries burst into her parents’ bedroom and fired four shots at her father’s head.
Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, the Anglican Bishop of Iran, was unharmed, but a fifth bullet flew through the hand of his British wife, Margaret, who had flung herself across him to save him. Seven months later their son, Bahram, 24, was shot dead on his way back from work.
Hassan, Margaret and their three daughters fled to Britain. The youngest, Gulnar, or “Guli”, was 14; on Thursday she was due to be consecrated as the first Bishop of Loughborough by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at Canterbury Cathedral.
Her remit as suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Leicester will include the support of ethnic minority clergy, lay workers and congregations. Although she tells me that “people might expect to see a blacker face and [hear] something of an accent” in this newly created role, she brings to it experience of growing up in a Muslim culture – her father converted to Christianity from Islam – sympathy for the refugee experience, a semi-outsider’s view of the “whiteness” of many CofE congregations, and a concern for Middle Eastern Christians.
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