I had a dream the other night that I was arriving at the yearly Baptist denominational gathering.
The first encounter was from a male colleague who greeted me with a lingering hug. My body stiffened and my mind prepared for what was to come.
As he departed, he commented on how good I looked, and I knew this year was going to be like the other years.
My dream continued with a gathering at the anchor church in town. As I walked in, the building shined pristinely.
The male pastor was touting the vast opportunities women had been given over the past year.
I countered there had indeed been opportunities for some women, but the vast number of women pastors were underemployed, underpaid and their duties twice their male colleagues.
He smiled a smile that let me know I had overstepped my bounds. I excused myself citing another meeting. As I walked back through the building, what had looked pristine looked a bit more tarnished.
My dream then skipped in time to the evening worship service. That same male pastor cornered me backstage explaining that my information was incorrect, and I wasn’t helping things by pointing out what still needed to be worked on.
He grabbed my arm just above the elbow as he issued the reprimand, and from somewhere within me I uttered, “I do not consent to being touched.”
Perchance in the dream, he already had his microphone fitted and it was hot. The whole assembly heard the exchange.
For a moment, I was buoyed by the hope that the pretense had been shattered. Now, people would realize there was a backstory, backstage to this whole gathering. He dropped my elbow, and I walked out.
The dream ended before I found out whether this revelation changed anything at all or whether business continued as usual.
Although my dream changed the circumstances and the people, the interactions were drawn from a deep place of memory of being silenced and ashamed of my looks because of similar circumstances.
Whenever I share my experiences like these, the responses I get almost always fall into two categories.
The first are responses from others who were in those denominational gatherings who attempt to overshadow my experiences with their positive ones. I am a woman and have only found this space to be safe and encouraging, they say.
The other responses are women who pop out of the wings of backstage. Their faces and voices are timid.
“I’m here too,” they say. “They told me to wait in the wings. They told me it would be our turn soon,” they say. “We’re still waiting,” they say.
When I woke up, I was overwhelmed with relief. This spring, I would not be a part of the denominational gatherings I had been for the past six years.
Over the past year, I have found sanctuary in the United Church of Christ where I need not pretend I am someone else.
No one has ever commented on my looks or lingered in an embrace too long. I don’t have to pause to think about whether my reflections and thoughts are too challenging and might inhibit my future professional chances.
My experiences are not overshadowed but welcomed just as everyone is welcome, especially those who have been oppressed and silenced.
When dreams reveal our deepest hurts and our deepest joys, perhaps these dreams are not dreams at all but visions of the divine.
Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, and editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing.