Finding a community’s existing spirituality, myths and theologies

Banksy: Life is Beautiful

With The Lab community in Alway, for a while we’ve been trying to find ways to identify and work with the existing spirituality of local young people. What we’ve always found incredibly interesting is how spiritual young people are. We once did a straw pole of thirty teenagers and found that about two thirds of them believed in some kind of spirits or ghosts. Since then, we’ve always been looking for resources and ideas to help develop some of that innate spirituality, drawing on the Christian tradition.

Little Theologies

Clemens Sedmak (2002), an Austrian theologian, talks about affirming and developing existing spirituality in his book about local theology. He talks about the idea of ‘little theologies’ which are already present in culture:

We find traces of little theologies present throughout various local cultures. We call these a theology of everyday life, situation theologies, homemade theology, thinking-out-of-a-particular-situation or feet-on-the-ground theology.
Clemens Sedmak, Doing Local Theology p.125

Sedmak says that little theologies are about three things:

  1. Pointing ‘to the richness and goodness of local contexts’
  2. Challenging the local context by ‘inviting people to see and go beyond its limits’
  3. Affirming by ‘opening eyes to previously unseen visions’


Affirming these little theologies, that already exist within a culture, and cultivating them could be a great way to explore spirituality in your context. And what’s especially exciting is bringing some of the Christian story into dialogue with them.

Pulse Rate Research

Streetspace in Chard use ‘pulse rate research’ as a way of identifying the inherent spirituality present within a group of young people. The exercise consists of asking young people to write a single word on each of two pieces of card, firstly a word to describe what is most important to them, and secondly a word to describe their life now. These words collected are then used to identify and re-contextualise a story or parable from Christian tradition, which the young people are invited to hear, and explore the meaning of, together.

The Adventurer is an example of a parable which has emerged from this exercise, based on the interaction between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler.

What ways have you found to identify and develop the innate spirituality in your context? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment.

About the author: James Henley
James Henley
James has been with The Lab since 2007 and leads our team. He's an ordained pioneer minister in the Church in Wales.
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