Liz Grier shares Unlimited Church’s story of how food and faith can change lives in an extract from Simply Eat, a collection of stories about meeting Jesus around food.

Food has always been central to our church. In fact, Unlimited Church in Exeter has never held any form of church service or meeting without food of some kind being involved. And it is not particularly because we ourselves are that interested in food. We are just convinced it is a brilliant way of bringing people together, loving them and valuing them, and encouraging community. 

In 2007 my husband James and I moved from Birmingham to Exeter with our two sons, Joshua and Toby, to start a church for young people who don’t do church’. Our first attempts involved us walking around Exeter city centre approaching, often tentatively, groups of young people and asking them if they were willing to talk to us. We would ask them what they thought about church. What they would like to see in a church designed around young people. What they thought about God. What they thought He thought about them. And if it was appropriate, we would offer to pray for them. We would listen with our hearts open to hear what God might want to speak into their lives. 


But we quickly realised that we could only get so far with this model. We needed a building to invite the young people into. A place that could be church – and family. Miraculously we were offered the rental of a small room attached to a city-centre church. We had a vision of a youth café́. So we decorated, added pictures and scatter cushions, bought hot chocolate, cream and marshmallows.

To our great joy, almost from the first week of having this café́ God brought young people along. My memories are of that small room being filled with much laughter. We became skilled at making hot chocolate mountains, mugs overflowing with cream and marshmallows. And we just spent time with the young people. Shared our lives. Week after week young people returned, trusting us enough to invite their friends. We talked to them about our faith. We gave them a safe space in which it was good to ask questions. Everyone who came was offered prayer if they wanted it.

From the start we always tried to have home-baked cakes. All the team were involved in baking – students cooking in their halls of residence, the older members around other work commitments. None of us found it is easy. I became skilled at making large numbers of double chocolate chip muffins.

Simply Eat Cover

I was perhaps even better at making Victoria sponge cake, but it was never as popular! We persisted in making the cakes ourselves, even when it would have been easier and perhaps cheaper to buy them from the local supermarket, because we wanted everything about that room, that space, to be the very best it could be.

Many of the young people we were meeting had broken and dysfunctional families. We were staggered at how difficult many of their lives were. We were heartbroken by their stories. And
we were called to be family to them, to be a safe haven in their week, and I wanted the people who came to learn something of their value through the quality of what they received from us. I wanted them to know they meant more to me, to God, than some powdered coffee and a packet of biscuits. That even before they arrived I had invested time, thought, money and energy into them. In short, that they mattered.

In time, some of the youth who came to the café́ became Christians. One day, one of them, Jess, turned to a team member as we were sitting together and eating and said, I guess this must be what family feels like’, and in that instant I knew that we had got it right. We were called to be church, to be family to these young people, and Jesus had used home-baked cakes to make it happen!

Simply Eat is a coffee table book designed to inspire Christians to share Jesus around food.

From a BAFTA award-winning writer to a former Hindu priest, and from a poetic schoolgirl to a celebrity chef, Simply Eat is an inspirational collection of stories and recipes celebrating the power of food and faith.

Buy Simply Eat.