The Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani has served as Bishop of Chelmsford since April 2021. In January 2021, Bishop Guli was also appointed as the lead Bishop for Housing for the Church of England and she has served as a member of the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords since November 2021. Born in Iran, Guli’s family left the country in the wake of the Iranian Revolution in 1980, when she was 13 years old, and to date she has been unable to return. Bishop Guli attended the Lambeth Conference in 2022. She shared some reflections with the conference team on what Being Anglican means to her.
It was a very great joy for me that my consecration as Bishop 6 years ago, on St. Andrew’s Day 2017, was in Canterbury Cathedral. This was for two reasons.
Firstly, my sense of being Anglican has always included a looking towards Canterbury, to the Cathedral as our Mother Church and to the Archbishop as an Instrument of Unity. Coming, as I do, from the small Diocese of Iran, we came under intense Persecution at the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. During those days it was our fellowship with other Anglicans around the worldwide Communion that became our prayerful support. Still now, the faithful remnant who remain in Iran today, vulnerable though they are, value their connectedness with the wider family of Anglicans.
This is about much more than the larger more numerous and outwardly “successful” churches reaching out to a weaker suffering member. Our links with each other, across the Communion, are familial. Based on a common faith, shared origins and ongoing commitments we were bound together not by charity but by the bonds of our heritage.
To attend the Lambeth Conference in 2022 as a Bishop in the Church of England I carried with me my fellow Anglicans in Iran whose history is my own, my father having attended the 1968, 78 and 88 Conferences and my maternal grandfather the 1958 Conference. I realise that for some looking to Canterbury is seen as outdated or colonial, but for me it is all about relationship – relationship which I want to see endure and strengthened.
Secondly, Canterbury Cathedral is a place in which division and conflict has been woven into the fabric of the building. The night before my consecration, in a darkened Cathedral, we gathered in candlelight to pray at the site of Thomas a Becket’s martyrdom and at the chapel dedicated to 20th century martyrs, two of whom are from the tiny Diocese in Iran: one, Arastoo Sayaah, a priest, and the other, my own 24-year-old brother. In both places we remembered how religious difference and political instability has brought great suffering but also a desire to overcome it and to heal and reconcile.
As I write, war, terror, and violence tear apart our world, notably in Israel/Palestine and in Ukraine, whilst conflict and discord tear at the fabric of our communion. The Anglican Communion is a place where healing and reconciliation ARE possible even if the work is painful and challenging, and the struggle towards unity is always worth the effort.
For me, then, the Communion has always been about the relationships that have been nurtured by our predecessors for so many generations, and about the possibility of unity despite our many differences. I commit myself to building on those relationships today.
- This article is part of our wider ‘Being Anglican’ series, where Anglicans from around the world share what the Lambeth Call on Anglican Identity means to them, and how this theme supports the life of the Anglican Communion. Find the ‘Being Anglican’ reflections shared so far here.
- For more information on our next webinar about Being Anglican and the Lambeth Call on Anglican Identity click here.