Episode 037: Kendall Kridner-Protzmann

Episode 037: Kendall Kridner-Protzmann


For episode 029 of Gutted, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Protzmann who told his story, A Path With Heart. For episode 037, I spoke with Kendall Kridner-Protzmann, Bill’s daughter, who is an interfaith hospital chaplain and licensed local pastor for the United Methodist Church in Southern California. As a queer-identified woman, Kendall is situated in both the religious and LGBTQ communities—communities that have historically felt betrayed by one another. 

The day before Kendall and I sat down to speak for our interview, she had driven back from Idaho where she was spending time with her grandfather who had just entered into hospice care. As she is very familiar with being on the leadership side of hospice—the side where she is privy to others amidst their losses—she describes how it was “surreal to be on the other side,” spending time in community with her family as they supported her grandfather in crossing over. 

I am particularly curious about this period of time in one’s life: the mortal life has not quite ended and the unknown of what lies beyond has not begun. Kendall and I discuss how interesting it is that this moment in time is often one of the few we have in life in which our entire family is gathered around, when people show up just to be, to sit and hold space with members of their family or tribe that they love. Kendall’s grandfather was surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and “lady friend” in the final days of his life. Kendall recalls the experience: 

“We were all settled into the room and granddad [would] come in and out of lucid moments and he looked around to all of us flocked to see him sitting in a bed. And he said, ‘Well, bet you’re all wondering why I called this meeting?’ And we all laughed as he kind of rolled his eyes.”

Kendall was married to her wife this last July and her grandfather read a scripture at her wedding that is particularly important to her. As Kendall and her grandfather had often debated about same-sex marriage, she wanted to make sure that she took this last opportunity to thank him for showing up so fully for her on her wedding day. The scripture—Psalm 23—included an adapted version of “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Sharing this story with me, Kendall recalls how her grandfather had become particularly emotional when reading this line of the scripture. Kendall had made the assumption that it was because her late grandmother was unable to be at her wedding. However, when Kendall recounted this story with her grandfather in hospice, he corrected her memory with what had actually happened for him that day. While reading that line of the passage at her wedding, he had vividly seen an image of her late grandmother standing in the wedding aisle, watching him read. Not only did it mean so much to Kendall that her grandmother’s spirit was with her on that day, but as she reflects on the story, she also realizes that maybe her grandmother had shown up for her grandfather. To come and say, “It’s time.”

From Kendall’s sharing of the experience, I can tell that she is a human who lives quite comfortably in the many discomforts of what it means to be alive. Kendall describes her experience as a chaplain in a hospital and within hospice settings: 

“I meet a lot of people in crisis. . . . I love being in those spaces with people because they’re at their most vulnerable. It’s too much effort [for them] to put on the happy face or the ‘I’m okay’ face . . . so you get to have authentic conversations being in that vulnerable and liminal space. It’s too much work to avoid reality. It’s too much work to avoid the divine . . . so maybe that’s why people at the end of life are more able to see what we can’t and just accept it, because why not?”

Kendall and I discuss the process of ageing. As both of us are still fairly young, it is impossible for either of us to know the reality of what it means to get old, but we use the elders in our lives as examples. Kendall shares how her grandfather had found love again at 74—almost a decade after her grandmother had passed away. Kendal shares, 

“I think I’d mentioned that [my grandfather and I] had some debating around same sex marriage. And I think in part, his relationship with his lady friend allowed him to reimagine what love and companionship looks like and means in the world.”

At this point in the conversation, my inquiry turns toward understanding how Kendall is in expression with her sexual identity as a queer woman while working in a faith-based field that does not openly accept or approve of the LGBTQ community. In response to my question, Kendall begins by sharing some of her coming-out story. Growing up, Kendall didn’t put much thought or energy into dating. It wasn’t until she was around 15 or 16 years old when someone in her life implied that she was gay that she realized she was gay. Her story isn’t complicated or overwhelming—just rather a simple truth. For the next many years, Kendall didn’t date much, but she did start to define her personal style as more masculine than feminine. 

In search of her own religious tradition and space, Kendall began going to a Methodist church when she was 15 years old and then felt called to be in religious leadership within that faith. Today, this religious methodology is very much struggling to understand where it stands on same sex marriage and the ordination process of people that identify as LGBTQ. Kendall states, “I am very thankful to be in California where it’s easier for me. But you know, you go to more of the middle areas of our country and it would be very hard for me to be valued in religious leadership and do what I do.” 

As Kendall shares, I can’t help but feel that her life is a very fine balance between two worlds. Professionally: the balance between the living and the dying. Personally: the balance between the accepted and the interrogated. Kendall responds, 

“I step into these spaces with people who are very vulnerable and they’re being very authentic. And part of my role is really to help them be their most authentic selves and have the conversations that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Or maybe no one’s asking them—the why questions. . . . But it’s interesting to walk into those spaces, and maybe I’m having those very real and authentic conversations with somebody who as I’m walking out the door says, ‘Well, thank you very much, sir.’’ And the question in my mind is, ‘Does everything we’ve discussed . . . does it lose value if I correct this patient and say, I’m a woman?’”

Kendall’s real-time reflection of herself and how she shows up in the world continues:

“I don’t professionally walk around and introduce myself as a gay woman. But it’s assumed and it’s rightfully assumed. But what that can then mean for my therapeutic relationship with patients . . . it can either be really beautiful and wonderful or it shuts the conversation down very quickly. So, it’s a constant discerning. There’s some patients where you can tell that maybe they can take it if I correct them. And then there’s others that . . . I assume . . . will feel betrayal in me correcting them.”

Her poise and grace in observing herself push Kendall and I to explore the many ways that we edit ourselves in order to protect the people around us from feeling betrayed or overwhelmed by what we are sharing. In this equation, Kendall adds, “Again, owning up to where I’m at in all of this [I ask myself], can they take it—and can I?” She continues, “It’s the same reason we give the good answer, instead of the fine answer [when someone asks how we are doing]. Do I have enough in me today to really claim who I am?”

At the end of the interview, Kendall recounts a recent experience she had in her role as a hospice chaplain. She was working with a nondenominational family, helping to support them as their family member transitioned. Her work with this family had happened a few days before the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016. Although this shooting had a very large impact on many of us, as a queer woman, Kendall was feeling deep sadness, pain, and grief for the inequalities and injustices that exist for her community. The morning after the shooting, as Kendall was making her rounds on the hospital floor, one of the daughters of the patient who had recently passed showed up looking for her. Kendall recalls,

“I was surprised because I knew that the patient had passed over the weekend . . . and she said, ‘Kendall, I just want to thank you for being present with us and with my Mom as she did pass.’ And so we talked about that and we talked about grieving and then she looked at me and she said something about how grieving is really challenging. And then, she said, ‘Well we’re both kind of grieving aren’t we?’ And you know, I hadn’t mentioned anything. I just show up the way I show up and she rightfully assumed . . . And then she gave me a hug and she said, ‘Please keep doing what you do and being who you are.’”

Kendall Kridner-Protzmann is an interfaith hospital chaplain and licensed local pastor for the United Methodist Church, based in Southern California, where she lives with her wife and two cat-dogs. As a chaplain, Kendall sits with people in their most vulnerable moments in life—the moments when it is too exhausting for people to be anything other than their authentic selves—and explores the ways these moments impact one’s spirituality. As a queer-identified woman, Kendall is situated in both the religious and LGBTQ communities, communities that have historically felt betrayed by one another. Given that, Kendall’s vocation is about appreciating the tension of sitting in two worlds and giving voice to her life as an example of reconciliation. 

Episode 038: Adam Poswolsky

Episode 038: Adam Poswolsky

Episode 036: Ricky Fishman

Episode 036: Ricky Fishman