In the '90s, God is only a phone call away.
Some churches offer recorded pastoral prayers by phone. Now, accessible faith means you can get an entire sermon for the price of a local phone call.
More than 2,000 people have called and listened to Dial-A-Devotion since the 120-member Church of Christ, Annapolis congregation put up a sign advertising the service in January.
"We feel it's an avenue offering Jesus Christ's message and showing the Bible's approach to modern-day problems, which people might not receive otherwise. As an evangelistic congregation, our aim is to arouse interest and provoke thought," says Charles Thomas, the church member who coordinates the service.
"As a result of the sign, numerous people have called and asked questions. Some have visited the church," Mr. Thomas adds. "We're just thrilled with the results we're getting. We've done much better than anyone expected."
He said he thinks the appeal of the line is its anonymity and its ease -- listeners don't have to drive to the church at 1601 Ritchie Highway. They don't have to give their names or talk to anyone.
"We have no way to track the callers. We just make it available to people who want to hear it," says Mr. Thomas.
Callers listen to homilies, which average 10 minutes, on a variety of topics, such as one recent sermon that discussed "temptations and how to face them."
"Within the pages of the Bible are the answers to man's most pressing needs," says a deep, soothing voice.
"Jesus was tempted, and he understands . . . he cares because he knows what it's like," says the speaker, one of four Church of Christ ministers who made the tapes nearly 20 years ago.
"Giving into temptation is sin, but we should not feel guilty because we are forced by circumstance to face temptation," encourages the preacher. "Temptation is not irresistible. Our efforts to resist will always be rewarded."
Mr. Thomas, who owns a moving and storage company in Glen Burnie, says the church tried a similar venture 10 years ago, but it didn't work out. At that time, callers could specify a particular sermon number and topic they wished to hear, and a church member took the calls and plugged in the correct tape. But few called.
Last year, Mr. Thomas remembered the existence of about 400 sermon tapes and decided to try it again -- this time with automation, expanding the service to 24 hours.
It worked. Some 200 people have called in each month. A few times, when Mr. Thomas forgot to stop and change the tape, regular listeners called to complain.
The telephone line costs the church about $200 a month, and volunteers change tapes and keep the equipment running.
"It's well worth it," he says. "We don't have a lot of money, like most churches, and right now we don't have a full-time preacher. But we want to offer people whatever we can."