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Ex-con curate keeps cell pact with God

by Paul Wilkinson

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A FORMER drug-dealer and con­victed armed robber, who made a pact with God to turn his life round, will be ordained priest by the Archbishop of York on Sunday.

The Revd Matt Martinson, aged 35 (above), grew up with a father who was an alcoholic and a drug-addict, he says. He joined the Army to escape, and later lived rough in York, sleeping on a boat under a bridge in the city centre. From there he drifted into crime. It started with fighting, moved on to drugs, and in 1995 he was arrested for armed robbery, and jailed for 11 years.

But a chance meeting with a cleric had already started him thinking about God, and during his time at Wolds Prison in East Yorkshire, he was taken under the wing of the chaplain, the Revd David Casswell. After less than four years, he was paroled, and started a spiritual journey that has led to his new life.

“I didn’t really go to school much, and I started playing truant when I was 13,” said Mr Martinson, who is Assistant Curate at St Nicholas’s, Beverley, Yorkshire. “I certainly was not interested in church or God then. The only time we ever went to church was Christmas Eve, not because it was Christmas, but because it was just somewhere to get away from my Dad, who was starting his Christmas bender.”

In 1994, however, a clergyman made a routine parish call on him and his girlfriend in York. “From the moment he walked in, I knew that he had something I wanted,” Mr Martinson said on Wednesday. “I didn’t know what it was. I just wanted whatever he had.

“This guy was just full of God — in his talk, in his mannerisms, his actions, everything. I just knew there was something real about his God. I don’t know who he was, and still don’t.”

At that point in his life, Mr Martinson had already made a suicide bid, and was convinced that his life of violent crime was heading towards an early death. After his arrest for armed robbery, while sitting in a police cell in Carlisle, he made his pact with God. “I said: ‘If you keep me alive, I’ll bow the knee to you, but at this point I really don’t care if I live or die.’

“God spoke to me when I was in prison, and told me: ‘Some day, you’ll be an ordained vicar.’ I laughed. But this sense of calling just kept growing.”

The York diocesan adviser on vocations, the Revd David Mann, said: “Matt’s story shows how God can change a person’s life. He’s been helped by some great priests in his journey. I’m sure he will be just as inspiring in his ministry.”

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