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Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 15:28 UK
Ex-armed robber Matt Martinson's path to priesthood

By Revd Matt Martinson
Curate of St Nicholas Church, Beverley

Matt Martinson
Matt Martinson made a deal with God when his life was at rock bottom

He was a homeless drug addict who ended up in prison for his part in an armed robbery. Yet he was one of 14 people to be ordained as a priest on Sunday 30th May 2010. Matt Martinson tells the remarkable story of how he turned his life around and his journey to priesthood.

"I feel really excited about my Ordination, but it's taken a long way to get there. When I come to York, I'll cross over Lendal Bridge on my way from the train station; I used to live in a boat under that bridge. To look back where I've come from, to where I've come, is to see God's grace at work.

My father was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and used to knock me about. Inevitably, that has an effect on you, and I joined the army to get away from that. It was join the army or go to prison. Eventually I came out of the army and ended up taking drink and drugs seriously.

My life became violent and I ended up living in a boat on the river. It wasn't anything fancy but it was a roof over my head. That went and I ended up sleeping rough in York and I progressed into the criminal scene, and ended up in a real mess.

It was at that point I made a deal with God. I said to him, 'If you get me caught alive, I will bow my knee to you'. I was getting involved in armed robbery, and with the firearms issues the violence was growing, and it was a very dangerous world. I'd come to the point in my life when I'd had enough, I couldn't take any more. I tried to commit suicide, but it didn't work.

Making the right choice

God got me caught alive. I was put in a police cell up in Carlisle and I heard God speak to me and say 'Make a choice'. I knew then that it was one of those eternity moments, and I had to choose whether I was going to accept God or not. I just said 'Yes' and looked at my life and thought: 'I'm looking at a severe prison sentence, I'm in a hell-hole, what more of a mess can you make? I've made it this bad, what can you do?'

Tramp sleeping rough
Matt had lived on the streets and got involved in violent crime

I was sentenced to 11 years, but I got parole, which was God's grace and I served four years. Prison was prison. It's not a nice place; it's a very hard place, especially for a Christian. I just had to trust that God was at work and He was, and He got me in the prison that I needed to be in; HMP Wolds. It's got a fantastic chaplaincy team, led at that time by the Revd Dave Casswell. He's an amazing guy and he helped nurture my faith, and helped me to grow as a Christian.

Coming out prison was hard, my whole life changed, the adjustment coming out was just horrendous. I got work with a marquee firm putting up tents. It was a great job, but I wanted more of God.

At that time I was going to Christ Church in Bridlington, where I met my future wife, Haley. Our eyes met across a crowded pew! We've been married for ten years now, with a little boy called Seth.

The journey to priesthood

After we were married we were walking on the beach and said to God, 'Whatever you want, God, wherever you want us to go, we'll go'. God sent us to Beverley but on a roundabout route.

I had to learn a lot; we went to Mexborough where I did a degree in theology. I'm dyslexic, couldn't read or write and there I was doing a degree.

I graduated and we set up a charity called Beyond Bars, working with ex-offenders, drug addicts, and alcoholics. I saw God do some amazing things in people's lives and when it was time to move on, we went back to Bridlington.

We went to see the Vicar of Christ Church in Bridlington, the Revd Jonathan Couper, and told him I was thinking of becoming a vicar. I expected him to say 'wait a while, find your feet here', but he told me he believed in what I was saying and in six months time I was accepted to be a priest! I went to training college and progressed from there.

God spoke to me when I was in prison and told me 'Someday, you'll be an ordained vicar'. I laughed, but this sense of calling just kept growing and through all I've done, it's progressed to where I am now. Seeing the fruition of that calling is just wow! God still takes my breath away."



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