In the 1730s, a number of people, known as Seceders, left the Church of Scotland, unhappy at decisions taken to remove from congregations the right to choose their minister. They formed the Secession Church. Kennoway’s Church of Scotland minister, Robert Ponton, denounced this movement, causing members of his congregation to investigate the controversy. When they did so, a number came to the conclusion that they agreed with the Seceders and they left to join them.
The Kennoway Seceders initially met in the fields around the town. In June 1738, Ralph Erskine preached a sermon to them on the slopes of Halfields Farm. The sermon made a deep impression on his hearers, who resolved to start a church in Kennoway. In 1750, their numbers increased when Neil Bethune was imposed as minister on the Church of Scotland congregation, despite their opposition.
On 23rd July 1751 the Kennoway Seceders were recognised as a congregation of the Associate (Burgher) Church. A church was built in 1753 and the first minister, William Arnot, after whom the church was named, was ordained five years later. He was considered a distinguished theologian and a book of sermons, which he published, entitled “The Harmony of the Law and the Gospel in the Method of Grace”, was said by another minister to be “worth its weight in gold”.
William Arnot always preached with his eyes closed. This was the result of an amusing incident, witnessed in a London church, which almost caused him to lose his composure. During the opening prayer, he heard a commotion. He opened his eyes to see a man standing on a seat and stretching up a stick with a lady’s bonnet and wig on top, in an attempt to return them to their owner on the balcony above.
William Arnot was a great friend of John Newton, the slave-trading sea captain who became a great hymn writer. Newton used his experiences in the slave trade to pen the words of “Amazing Grace”. When William Arnot died, John Newton sent a letter to his widow.
William Arnot’s great-grandson was Fred Stanley Arnot. When he was six, David Livingstone visited his school. This ignited an interest in Africa and a friendship developed between the Arnots and the Livingstones. As a boy of eight, Fred realised his need of the Saviour and he became a Christian through repeating and believing the words of John 3:16. In 1881, Arnot left Scotland for Africa and spent many years there as a missionary until his death in 1914.
The Arnot’s second minister was William Kidston, who was ordained in 1790. He did not want to come to Kennoway but was forced to do so by the Synod. He was minister for only one year and then became a minister in Glasgow. He later confessed: “During the short time of my connection with Kennoway, I enjoyed much comfort. My pastoral labours were kindly received and seemed to be not unprofitable.”
Kidston was followed by Alexander Morrison, ordained in 1792. On a Sunday in the summer of 1793, he preached in a church in Auchtermuchty, dressed in black. He said by way of explanation: “It is for a friend.” The next day, he left Kennoway forever. He later confessed that he had taken part in a duel. He was thereupon declared “a fugitive from discipline”.
The Arnot’s fourth minister was Donald Fraser. He was ordained in December 1794. He was only twenty-one at the time and looked even younger. An old woman was overheard by him, saying: “Hech! Oor new minister is but a wee laddie!” He was the author of a number of books and wrote the biography of his great-grandfather, Ralph Erskine. Fraser was described as: “a cheerful and consistent Christian; an active minister and a lover of all good men of whatever sect.” During his time as minister, the Associate (Burgher) Church throughout Scotland was faced with controversy concerning the Confession of Faith. Fraser tried to prevent a division in his own church, but failed. A number of members, who took the name “Old Lights”, left to set up their own congregation. In 1837, the Arnot had 428 members.
Fraser died in December 1841 and Alexander Stewart was ordained as minister in April 1843. The soundness of his beliefs was questioned by a minister in Leslie, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent Stewart from becoming minister. All this had an effect on his health and he died in December 1846, at the age of twenty-eight. He is buried in the old churchyard in Kennoway and his life was commemorated in a stained-glass window installed in the Arnot.
In April 1848, Daniel Douglas was ordained as minister of the Arnot. His ministry lasted for forty years and included, in 1870, a refurbishment of the building. He was a greatly loved minister. According to A S Cunningham, writing in 1906, Douglas’ “gentle life has written its own record on the hearts of the people”. Daniel Douglas was honoured by the installation of a marble memorial within the Arnot.
The Arnot’s seventh minister was James Campbell Boyd. He was ordained in March 1889 and during his pastorate the church, by this time a United Presbyterian Church, merged with the Free Church to form a United Free Church.
In 1917, the Arnot United Free Church became linked to the United Free Church at Windygates. Their minister was Cameron Peddie, who was ordained the day after this thirtieth birthday. In his autobiography, “The Forgotten Talent”, he wrote: “Both churches were in low water, but after I toiled hard amongst both young and old for three years, the empty pews filled.”
In 1919, the union between Windygates and Kennoway was disolved and John MacKenzie became the minister at the Arnot. He was followed in 1925 by Thomas Younger who in 1927 wrote a short account of the history of the Arnot to commemorate its 175th anniversary. Younger refers to the Session Records which had been kept since 1752 and noted that they recorded both sins committed by the congregation and also good deeds which had been carried out. Members of the Arnot had over the years looked after local orphans and had raised money for the education of poor children. In 1929, the Arnot became a Church of Scotland congregation. In 1943, union between the Arnot congregation and the Kennoway Old congregation was suggested but rejected.
Thomas Younger was followed as minister by Albert Tweedie (1949-1951), by Hugh Lyons (1952 - 1956), and by Peter Mackie (1957-1961).
From the early 1960s until 1974 the Arnot was led by Roy Copeland, a Lay Missionary. He had been brought up as a communist but had become a Christian through the preaching of D P Thomson. He was a miner and had been seriously injured in a pit accident. Doctors thought that he would never walk again, but he did. When he arrived at Kennoway, he was welcomed as “a man personally committed to the Gospel he preaches” and “a man completely worthy of the support of the people of Kennoway”.
On 13th April 1975, the two Church of Scotland congregations in Kennoway united, leaving the Arnot vacant.