Guli Francis-Dehqani is an Iranian living in Kent, England. As the daughter of the former Anglican Bishop of Iran, Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, her religious journey has been fraught by geography and circumstance, with her family suffering threats and assassination attempts; one attack in 1979 narrowly missed her father and injured her mother. The family left the country soon after the 1979 Revolution, but Guli’s brother Bahram stayed behind, later murdered in 1980.
This past week, on November 30th, these persecutions gave way to a historic event. In a ceremony at the Canterbury Cathedral—one of the oldest cathedrals in England, dating back to 1070, though the structure has technically existed there for longer—Francis-Dehqani was consecrated as the first Bishop of Loughborough in the Diocese of Leicester, and has the distinction of being the very first Iranian woman to hold that station.
A statement on this momentous occasion was issued by Canterbury Cathedral’s official Twitter account on Thursday morning:
History has just been made in the most moving annointing of the Rt Revd Guli Francis-Deqhani @No1Cathedral Canterbury by @JustinWelby. The first Persian woman ever consecrated as a Bishop, and the first Bishop of Loughborough. Allelluia! pic.twitter.com/gTRr7zZUqc
— Diocese of Leicester (@leicestercofe) November 30, 2017
The Anglican Diocese of Iran dates back to 1912 and has had six bishops over the years, with Hassan Francis-Deqhani’s appointment having been celebrated back in 1961.
Part of the new Bishop’s responsibility will include communicating and working towards the diocese’s diversity objectives: “She will…have a specific brief to oversee and support the vocations of those called to ordained ministry; and to encourage Christians from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as the diocese ‘strives for modern society to be better reflected in its congregations.’”
The event was a family affair, with Francis-Deqhani’s son Gabriel playing cello alongside King’s School musicians performing Variations on Bahram’s Melody, an original piece of music written by her uncle and father which honors her brother. As for Gabriel, he composed a piece of music set to a Persian poem with words from St. John’s Gospel. Bishop Guli’s other two children joined the ceremony alongside their brother, carrying offertory gifts to the Archbishop.