View from the Rectory - October 2017

   THE RECTOR

I was delighted to discover recently that an old friend has been made a bishop. The Revd. Guli Francis-Dehqani has been chosen to  be  the first Bishop of Loughborough, a suffragan bishopric within the Diocese of Leicester. The position was created not only to ease the burden on the diocesan bishop but to exercise a particular ministry amongst black and  minority ethnic communities which are well established and numerous in both Leicester and Loughborough.  Guli herself has British and Persian heritage. Her mother was the daughter of a CMS missionary bishop who worked in Iran and her father was a Persian convert to Christianity who went on to become the Bishop of the Church in Iran and subsequently presiding bishop of the Anglican Province of Cyprus and the Middle East. His name was Hassan Deqhani-Tafti  and his life was characterised  by  stedfast faith, gentleness, suffering and exile. I was privileged to know him in his later years in which he lived in Basingstoke and exercised a ministry as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Winchester.  I became well acquainted with his family story and he did me the great kindness of preaching at my ordination to the priesthood, a sermon in which he was at pains to stress the uniqueness of Christ, a theme which, as a convert, was especially dear to his heart.

Converts to Christianity in Muslim countries have always risked rejection by family and friends so declaring faith in Christ and being baptised is never undertaken without both heartfelt conviction and careful consideration of the consequences. That was certainly how it was for Hassan who once told me that  he was irrevocably drawn to Christ through knowledge of the grace of God, this being true refreshment for the soul after growing up in a religious culture characterised by law and commandment.  Hassan found a new family in Christ and this was reinforced by his marriage to Margaret, the daughter of William Thompson, then missionary bishop in Iran and Hassan’s mentor. In due course Hassan succeeded his father in law and through that combination of stedfast faith and gentleness gained considerable respect amongst Muslim scholars and a degree of acceptance by the regime of the Shah. All this changed suddenly in 1979. The Iranian Revolution, initially welcomed by Hassan as a corrective to the corruption of the old regime, soon turned nasty and spawned the kind of fanaticism with which we’re all too familiar today.  Converts from Islam found themselves in danger of their lives and the Dehqani-Tafti’s nearly died when  a gunman burst into their bedroom and unleashed a volley of fire. Remarkably they were unharmed though the pillow on which they lay was riddled with bullets. In spite of such horrors Hassan continued his ministry amongst the Anglican congregations in Iran and to oversee the affairs of the wider province until the death of his son Bahram, murdered at the hands of extremists. That crushing blow and the danger faced by the rest of his family effectively forced the Dehqani-Tafti’s into exile in England.

In spite of their suffering Hassan and Margaret never gave way to bitterness and continued to exercise a loving ministry to the Persian congregation in London and amongst churches in the Diocese of Winchester and further afield. Hassan translated spiritual and theological texts into his native tongue for the benefit of Christians at home and set about writing an autobiography, ever keen to recount his experience of the graciousness of God. His youngest daughter Guli  (Persian for Little Flower) married an Irishman, Lee Francis who, like me, trained for ordination at Salisbury and Wells Theological College. Several years later Guli herself was ordained and whilst Lee dedicated himself to parochial ministry – he is Rector of Oakham in Rutland – Guli’s ministry has focussed around nurturing the ministry of others as a Dean of Women’s Ministry and a Diocesan Director of Ordinands.  At her consecration at Canterbury Cathedral on 30th November her family will have its third successive generation of Bishop and the leadership of the  Church of England will welcome to its ranks a person in whom those many qualities that distinguished her father are writ large. Sadly, Hassan and Margaret are no longer here to share in the joy of the occasion. I’m sure they are rejoicing with us  amongst  that great congregation of the faithful upon another shore. 

Charles Booth

 


 


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