27 May 2010
A former violent criminal who was jailed for 11 years for an armed robbery on a post office is to be ordained as a priest after turning his life around.
Former offender and armed robber the Rev Matt Martinson, who is soon to be ordained by the Archbishop of York Photo: ROSS PARRY
Reverend Matthew Martinson, 35, left school with no qualifications, took drugs, drank heavily and was forced to live on the streets to escape an abusive father.
But after shunning his life of crime he is now one of 14 people who will be appointed to the priesthood by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu at York Minster on Sunday.
After years of petty crimes he hit rock-bottom when he was jailed for carrying out a violent armed robbery – but says he had a moment of epiphany when he was arrested and made a pact with God when he was half expecting to die.
He said: "I said to him, 'if you get me caught alive, I will bow my knee to you,' because at that time I was getting involved with 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.
"When the police arrested me I felt a great sense of relief. I felt that I was home in some way. I heard God speak to me and he said 'you now have a choice to accept or reject me'.
"I didn't hear it audibly, but I just knew that he was speaking to me."
Despite joining the army to get away from his troubled home life Rev Martinson said he came out in a "real mess", living rough on a boat in York, and became involved with a life of armed robbery, fighting and drug dealing.
He was arrested for the raid in 1995 and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
It was while serving his time that Rev Martinson, now curate at St Nicholas Church in Beverley, East Yorks., was taken under the wing of David Casswell, chaplain at the Wolds Prison in East Yorkshire.
After serving almost four years he was released in 1999.
Rev Martinson went to live with another chaplain and continued his spiritual journey studying at Bible college and ended up at Bridlington, East Yorks, where he met his future wife, Haley, in church.
They have now been married for 10 years and have a nine-year-old son, Seth.
Rev Martinson, whose father died of a drink and drug overdose while he was in his teens, said: "I feel really excited about my ordination but it's taken a long way to get here.
"When I come to York on May 30, I will cross over Lendal Bridge on my way from the train station – I used to live on a boat under that bridge.
"To look back where I've come from to where I am now, is to see God's grace at work."
Rev David Mann, the diocesan adviser on vocations, said: "Matt's story shows how God can change a person's life.
"He's been helped by some great priests in his journey, and I'm sure that he will be just as inspirational in his ministry."
Rev Martinson added: "I regret very much the people I have hurt. I can't wave a magic wand and change that, but it has also made me into who I am.
"I want the opportunity to share what God has done in my life and let people know that there is someone out there who loves them and accepts them for what they are. If I can turn my life around, then anyone can."