On 11 March 2021, the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani was confirmed as the new Bishop of Chelmsford at a prayerful and historic service.led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
A message from the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following the Confirmation of my Election on the evening of 11th March, I’m writing to you for the first time as Bishop of Chelmsford. I do so with a deep sense of awe and thankfulness. I consider it to be a great privilege and as I look to the future I place my trust and hope in God: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this (1 Thessalonians 5.24).
Over the past year the impact of the pandemic has been devastating in so many ways and some of the worst effects have been felt within our Diocese. Levels of poverty and inequality have been exposed in ways we cannot ignore and we have witnessed great suffering. Some of you will have lost loved ones, experienced illness or been under pressure for a whole number of reasons. I recognise there are high levels of weariness among clergy, lay ministers and lay leaders, and that morale may be low in places. This is compounded by financial challenges and their impact which have been well documented. There is, I know, uncertainty and anxiety about the future.
Into this context steps your new bishop. I have felt warmly welcomed by your generous embrace and for that I want to say thank you – it has been humbling and I’m grateful for all the kindnesses shown to me. Some of you may have high expectations about my arrival, others of you may be reserving judgement. I have to be honest and say that I don’t come with a readymade answer to the many challenges which we face. But I do come as someone who cares deeply and who wants to be alongside you, first to listen and understand, so that together we can discern the direction of travel and the way ahead.
There are wonderful things going on in the diocese. Individuals and church communities living
sacrificially, demonstrating the love of Christ in word and action, looking outwards to the needs of the world, sharing the good news of the gospel, sometimes at great cost. Stories about the way in which you have kept worship alive and served your neighbours in so many ways has moved me deeply and I’m proud now to be associated with you. I want to thank you and encourage you to continue being salt and light, for that is our calling.
As I join you, I’m fully aware that we will be building on the past and seeking God’s guidance for the future but most importantly we are striving to be faithful in the present moment – if we lose sight of this, we lose the core of our vocation. I believe there is some work to do in discovering our identity as a whole Diocese – what are the things that hold us together, what is our shared context and purpose? In turn, I want each of you in the three Areas and indeed in your own local settings to be free to know your particular context and purpose and to feel confident in exploring and developing that further. All this may take time and I don’t intend to rush. My sense is that the whole Church of God is at the current time in a liminal season when we cannot clearly see the future and we don’t quite know what it will look like. So let’s take time to get to know one another and to listen to God’s voice, meanwhile persevering faithfully in the uncertainties of this present moment. There are, of course, difficult decisions to make and we can’t avoid the reality of the financial challenges but let us not be overly anxious or fearful, rather practise the virtue of hope and, as Elijah did, listen for God’s still calm voice.
And in doing that I’d like to encourage us to hold a disposition of kindness and gentleness, thinking and speaking well of one another. If we cannot demonstrate love for one another, we cannot properly love the world. I know there are divisions and differences of opinion in the diocese – it would be surprising if there weren’t. But our diversity (in every respect) can be our strength if we allow it. It won’t happen automatically – we will need to be intentional about it, committed to being honest, developing trust and holding one another in prayer. I want to say a word about the timeline of my arrival in the diocese. At present I am in the final stages of my ministry in Leicester Diocese where my last day will be Easter Day. During this period,
and until 18th April, Bishop Peter has authority to continue acting as Bishop of Chelmsford. After a two week break I shall begin stage 1 of my ministry in Chelmsford on 19th April. We will continue living where we are in order to allow our younger two children (twins in their GCSE year) to complete their school year (our eldest is in his final year at University). I will work remotely from Loughborough but as the situation allows I hope to visit the Diocese from time to time. During this stage, my priority will be to meet with and listen to as many people as possible, aiming to understand the Diocese better, gather the stories and get a feel for the context. As a family we will move to Bishopscourt around the middle of July. We are hoping to have a service of welcome and installation in early September and further details will follow in due course. This will be stage 2 and the beginning of my public ministry when I will start leading worship, visiting churches and worshipping communities and becoming more rooted and visible in the life of the Diocese. I am looking forward to this enormously.
I can’t end without saying a particular word of thanks to all my colleagues on the Bishop’s Staff
especially to +Peter who has held his responsibilities as Acting Diocesan Bishop with the utmost care and thoughtfulness. I’ve been most grateful for his wisdom and his kind generosity to me personally over the past few months.
There is so much more I could write but all that really remains is for me to assure you of my prayers in the coming weeks and months, to thank you for your faithfulness and to leave you with this final reflection. Just before writing this letter, I was reading Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus calming the storm (Matt 8. 23-27) and three things struck me that I want to share with you. First, Jesus got into the boat before the disciples and they followed him; they then set sail into what turned out to be a gale. We may feel like we are in the eye of the storm but we keep our eyes on Jesus who always goes ahead of us. Second, the disciples had to wake Jesus and ask for help before he calmed the storm. Jesus waits for us to seek him out and acknowledge our need of his help. And third, in order to be close to Jesus the disciples had to all be in the boat together, a motley group though they were, no doubt with their differences and divisions – to be close to Jesus, they had to be close to one another; there was no other way.
As we continue to journey through Lent towards the cross and eventually the resurrection of Christ, this comes with my warmest good wishes and with every blessing.
Read more on the Diocese of Chelmsford website