Church of England Diocese of Guildford Dunsfold


2 Aug 2021, 11 a.m.
Housing the poor and destitute used to be what the Church of England was all about, but in recent years it has arguably become better known for selling off land to the highest bidder.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani, is determined to do something about that.</span>

As England's first Bishop for Housing, she is spearheading efforts to build affordable homes on church land and campaigning for long-term solutions to what Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby believes is one of the biggest crises facing the country.

As a former refugee, Bishop Guli understands the importance of a stable, secure home.

Her family was forced to flee Iran - where her father Hassan Dehqani-Tafti was an Anglican bishop - in 1980, in the wake of the Islamic revolution.

"I arrived in this country, aged 14, initially as a refugee, someone who had just lost home in the fullest sense of its terms - both our physical home, which was confiscated by the authorities, but also home in terms of where your roots are, your country of origin and so on," she tells me.

The family settled in Hampshire, and slowly came to terms with the fact that they would not be returning to their home country.

She came to appreciate that home is "where we find our place of belonging, it's where we feel safe, where we can build stability and community," she says.

"It's all of those things, and I suppose in my teenage years I experienced the kind of profound injustice of having that torn away, frankly.

"And the journey for me has been about using that in my role, and in my ministry, in such a way that is life-giving, rather than turning me bitter and angry and in on myself."

She made history in 2017, when she became the first woman from an ethnic minority to be ordained as an Anglican bishop and later this year will take up a seat in the House of Lords.

Bishop Guli admits to hesitating a little when Justin Welby offered her the newly created housing role last year, as it was not exactly her specialist subject.

But she says the archbishop's vision - based on Coming Home, a Church report on the housing crisis published earlier this year - chimes with "my own passion for social justice and the Church's involvement in the public sphere".

The Church of England can't solve the housing crisis on it is own, she argues.

That will take long-term government action.

But she believes the Church has a moral duty to do what it can, given that it is sitting on such a large amount of under-used land.

And she is determined to ensure that Coming Home does not join the ranks of other well-meaning reports "gathering dust on the shelf".