Tristan English was an executive in the newspaper industry, specializing in sales and circulation, before becoming a priest eight years ago.

"My life changed dramatically when I shifted from the secular world," English said. "... It took a couple years to be comfortable with that."

Today, English serves as rector for Christ Episcopal Church in Red Wing. Now that he's wearing the collar full-time, he joins others in the profession who are looking to recover the "prophetic voice" of the clergy and better serve communities through social justice leadership.

"I think everywhere is being challenged in finding the prophetic voice because clergy have given it up," English said. "What's nice about Minnesota is it has a very large percentage of people who still attend church. Because of that, I think people are very comfortable having these conversations about faith and the intersection of faith and the public world - or at least I want to believe that."

English has joined a new program through the Collegeville Institute at St. John's University designed to help rural clergy develop leadership skills and educate them on trending social topics in Minnesota.

The Rural Minnesota Fellows program is made up of 12 ecumenical pastors from a variety of faiths and locations throughout the state - except the seven counties that make up the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester.

These men and women will meet once a quarter for 2-3 days, Oct. 2017 to July 2019, to hear from regional experts on poverty, education, food and agriculture, aging, immigration, health care, and other topics.

"I am not aware of any program out there that is equipping people in such a large array of so many topics that are so critical to Minnesota," English said. "I mean, we are getting into all the issues ... it is focused on the future. And it is a tremendous honor to be a part of it. And it's exciting. It feeds me."

Already the group has met twice and heard from leaders at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Center for Early Education and Development. Speakers addressed economic development issues for the state including the job crunch that finds many communities, like Red Wing, with more jobs available than workers.

"The fellows program is presenting the information. It's up to the fellows to decide what to do with it," English said.

With his years of experience in business, and by having a foot in the door socially as a member of various local boards and initiatives such as the United Way, Every Hand Joined and Make it OK, English feels more prepared than some of his rural fellow colleagues to begin speaking up.

Already, he said, he's intervened in a locker room conversation at the YMCA where others were using foul language and maligning impoverished countries.

"When I hear something it's my job to say something," he said. "Now we have information to inform and back us up."

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