Born in 1939, growing up in a Monmouthshire mining valley then in Cardiff, Brian Norton came into contact with the church through the Boys’ Brigade.
At the age of 13 he came to faith in Cardiff, under the powerful preaching of Rev. Dr Gwyn Walters, who himself was influenced by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Still in his teens, Brian attended a series of lectures by Gwyn Walters on the theology of grace, given under the auspices of London Bible College in Cardiff.
It may seem hard to imagine today with the bewildering plethora of Christian books on sale, but in those days Christian books were hard to come by, so Brian read keenly as many secondhand books as he could get his hands on. But times were changing and the Reformed faith was being rediscovered. Improvements in printing technology arrived at the right time for the launch of the Banner of Truth Trust. Brian, along with many others, was there when the Banner’s first books went on sale at Westminster Chapel, which he attended during his time as a student of botany in London.
In those three years he benefited richly from the ministry of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. After completing his studies, he married Brenda, whom he knew from his Cardiff home church, and they moved in 1962 to the Cotswolds, where Brian taught biology.
Theistic evolution was probably the default position of educated evangelicals at that time, but Romans 5, expounded on Friday evenings at Westminster Chapel, had shown Brian that, if Christ was the second Adam, then there had to have been a first Adam, real and created. This profoundly affected his teaching of biology.
There were few evangelical churches in the Cotswold area, a huge difference from what they had been used to. It was a sobering but valuable experience. In time they met other serious minded believers and made life-long friendships.
Brian took up a teaching post in Durham in 1970 and found a good evangelical church in which to worship in a nearby village. But his desire to see Reformed churches established, and the need in Durham City, were growing concerns.
In 1986, a call from the organising committee of the London Presbyterian Conference to form churches that together could lead to a presbytery based on the Westminster Confession of Faith, chimed with Brian’s own feelings.
In August 1987, a group of seven adults and five children started meeting in Durham. Five other groups around the country became part of the venture, forming the Presbyterian Association in England, until 1995, when it became the EPCEW (Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales). Brian was one of the first elders of Durham Presbyterian Church in 1992, and then, in 2002 at the request of the congregation, he became officially recognised as its minister, serving in that way until his last days. The congregation grew and Brian oversaw other church plants.
On 2 June 2015, around 170 people were able to attend Brian’s funeral, at which the congregation were reminded that a good and faithful servant had surely entered into the joy of his Lord.
Rev. Dr Kevin Bidwell directed us to Proverbs: ‘It is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting, because the heart of the wise is there’.
We were reminded that there is a season for everything: a time to be born, a time to die, a time to mourn, a time to build up. It is to building up that we now turn our hands: to continue to build up that which Brian cared for passionately — the church, the body of Christ — until the Lord Jesus Christ returns.