ETS and KFC – a good combination for Tom Penman

16th July 2018

1 Briefly describe how you ended up in Kirkcaldy.  Why did you move there?

I became a student at Edinburgh Theological Seminary (ETS) when I started working at Knox Free Church in Perth. Originally I was only part-time and travelled in two days a week. But when I went into full-time study the distance was too far to travel four days a week. We needed to move closer so I could get to class quickly but at the same time wanted to avoid the sky-high costs of living in Edinburgh. We also wanted to be somewhere we could serve in a local church while I trained for ministry and knew that Kirkcaldy Free Church (KFC) were looking for people to get involved with the church.

2 What is it like living in the town?  How did your family find it?

Kirkcaldy is a good place to live. Many people are aware of its poverty and post-industry problems. People are less aware that it has great parks, nice beaches, a theatre, and all that kind of stuff. Most importantly the people are friendly. My family enjoys living here. There are plenty of Parent and Toddler classes and groups (some held at the church) and it is easy to get around town. Most things are within walking distance of the town centre.

3 Describe the gospel need in the area.

The gospel need is immense. Kirkcaldy is town of 50,000 people where less than 1% of the population is actively Christian. There is widespread interest in spirituality such as the occult, witchcraft and psychics. Other religions such as the Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and Islam are a growing presence as well. Although there are an increasing number of community groups aiming to deal with social problems, people’s greatest need, (their need to have their sins forgiven by repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord) is totally neglected. If the church doesn’t do this work, no one else will.

4 What is it like being an ETS student in Kirkcaldy Free Church?  What opportunities are there to learn?  How are you supported?

There are plenty of opportunities to learn as an ETS student at Kirkcaldy Free Church. You have opportunities to preach, lead small groups and Sunday services. I have also been serving as an Elder since February, giving me further opportunities to gain experience leading and give input on the direction of the church. Our minister John is very supportive of my studies, willing to discuss essay topics or lend books as needed. He also gives feedback after sermons and small groups. The church is also willing to be supportive and help you clear your schedule during essay and exam times when ETS gets most busy.

5 What gospel opportunities do you see here?

Ironically the signs of gospel need are also gospel opportunities. There is still a lively interest in the spiritual in Kirkcaldy. Many have a pagan or Roman Catholic connection. This makes discussing the gospel easier than in more secular places.

6 Why is church revitalisation an important option for ETS students to consider while studying?

If you are studying at ETS for ministry or any other church work you need to be involved at a church while you are a student. Being in a church working for revitalisation has two great advantages. Firstly, the church is smaller so it is much easier to get involved. Often in larger churches it is easy to hide in the crowd, or be passed over for a role because there always seems to be someone better suited. But in a small church you don’t have that option. Everyone needs to pull their weight. Secondly, the sad fact is that many of our churches in the Free Church need some form of revitalisation. Being involved in it as a student lets you get the experience you need before you encounter it in your future ministry.

7 Why is Kirkcaldy a good place for full-time or part-time students to be based?  What is the commute like?

Kirkcaldy has a lot going for it. The commute is short, about forty minutes on the train to Waverley which is shorter than some of my Edinburgh based classmates. It is also affordable. Costs are much lower in Kirkcaldy than they are in Edinburgh, from housing to food to transport. You also have access to great parks, cafes and beaches.

8 Why does Kirkcaldy Free Church need the help of the denomination in order to revitalise?  Can they not do this on their own?

The Christian church was not designed to be a series of independent groups spread out across the country but a single family of God where brothers and sisters help one another and operate as a single body with Christ as its head. This is the basis for Presbyterianism. No congregation is expected to survive on their own. If a new church was planted, it would be normal for it to receive assistance (monetary, personnel, etc.) from a sending church or Presbytery. In a church revitalisation context with few resources or people the need for help should be just as clear.

9 In what ways is KFC still a fragile church?  How else could the denomination help in order for it to become a sustainable congregation?

KFC is fragile in several ways. Firstly, it has few leaders and it is difficult to train up new ones using the most popular church resources. There can be low literacy in some areas of Kirkcaldy. Also as you are in a poor area church finances are precarious even though people give generously. It would only need to the loss of a couple of members for the church to cease to be financially viable. The denomination could help by giving advice on discipleship and helping us train up new members for future leadership. It could also give advice on funding opportunities and where we could get help from. For example, help for getting a ministry assistant or church worker. The denomination could also encourage more people to live in Kirkcaldy or other areas which need support.