Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bishop Bullen Dolli, R.I.P.

Bishop Bullen Dolli, bishop of Lui Diocese in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, died early on December 11. Lui has been our companion diocese for nearly 5 years, and many of us knew Bishop Bullen from our trips to Lui and from his visits here in Missouri.

Bishop Bullen was taken ill on October 23 and was sent to hospital in Juba for treatment. On his return home he underwent surgery at Lui Hospital. Following this he was again treated in Juba on November 16, where he was referred to hospital in Nairobi for tests. He underwent further surgery in Nairobi in November 24. By November 26, we learned that he had a cancer diagnosis, was in intensive care, and was not doing well. By December 6, with no improvement, the Bishop’s family had decided to arrange for his transport home to Lui, since further surgery or treatment did not seem likely to help. Our diocese worked with our friends in Lui to try to arrange the transportation. As you may recall, there is no such thing as commercial transportation into the Lui area; it requires a special charter flight, which we were seeking to arrange with MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship), the organization the flies our missioners into and out of southern Sudan. The next flight we could arrange was on Monday, December 13. However, Bishop Bullen died early on December 11.

Bishop Bullen leaves behind his young (second) wife Lorna and his infant son, Silvan (shown at right in the arms of the Bishop's niece Tabitha), as well as the people of his diocese.

Upon the news of Bishop Bullen’s death, our Bishop Wayne Smith wrote: “Bishop Bullen was a friend and colleague who repeatedly showed great courage, facing difficulties and dangers during his episcopate and before, for the sake of the Moru people.” And further: “His lively faith took root in the gospel of Jesus. May he rest in peace, and rise in the glory of Christ.”

Bullen was consecrated bishop in 1999, since when he has led the Diocese of Lui. He led that faithful Episcopal community through years of bitter civil war, during which many people hid in the bush. During that time, the Cathedral was bombed twice and rebuilt twice – in an awesome gesture of faith, hope, and brash persistence.

I have no doubt that Bishop Bullen was ready for death. When I learned that he died in Nairobi, my greatest grief was that he was not able to return to Lui before his death. The affection for him was great, and I grieve that he was not able to spend some time with the people of his diocese.

I have spent a fair bit of time with Bishop Bullen. Much is made of the “crisis” in the Anglican Communion over LGBT issues. This much I know: After my time in Lui in 2006, Bishop Bullen was informed that I was gay. The next time I saw him, I expected him to shun me. He did not. He greeted me with the same embraces we had shared when I was in Lui.

I don’t know precisely … though I can guess … what kind of theological views Bishop Bullen may have held about “homosexuality” in the abstract. But I also know this: He related to me as a sister in Christ, as I honored him as a brave minister of the Gospel in a difficult place. And he was willing to establish a “companion diocese” relationship with the Diocese of Missouri, where gay people are ordained and same-sex blessings are performed.

I deeply grieve the death of my brother Bullen.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. And may the people of Lui find comfort and be gifted with new leadership.

Further resources:
Follow the Lui Network – a partnership among Lui, the Diocese of Missouri (U.S.). Blackmore Vale (CofE), and Lund (Sweden) here:
A brief biography of Bishop Bullen appears at … though I think some of the facts are wrong.
My blog about Lui is here: My reflections about my February-March time in Lui appear in blog entries from March 8 through July 2006.