In the beginning there was "Dial-a-Prayer."
But soon, Washington's most inventive spiritual leaders created "Dial-a-Saint," "Dial-a-Sermon," and "Reflections on Truth."
And now, for those seeking a second opinion among the potpourri of religious-oriented telephone recordings, there is "Dial-an-Atheist."
Following is a guide to some of those recorded telephone messages in the Washington area and what callers can expect:
229-2022, Church of the Redeemer Dial-a-Prayer, Bethesda: If you'd been following this prayer line, you'd know the heroic story of 18th century violinist Niccolo Paganini, who completed a recital as scheduled even though a nail pierced his foot on the way to the stage and all but one violin string snapped. Although the audience snickered at his misfortunes, Paganini hushed their laughter with music he created. The church's pastor, the Rev. Harry Harper, recounts new, modern-day parables nearly every day.
281-7999 Dial-a-Saint: You don't get to talk to saints, but you can hear detailed accounts of an individual saint's life, which can range five to 11 minutes. In recent weeks, callers have heard the histories of St. Lawrence, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Peter the Apostle. A new saint is introduced about every two weeks.
370-5255, Dial-an-Atheist, Virginia Cahpter of American Atheists: Now for the opposing viewpoint: "You could be an atheist and not even know it," according to this weekly message, if "you have difficulty accepting those absolute myths and rigid dogma you were told you had to believe. . ."
Weekly messages range from factual accounts of First Amendment rights and lists of prominent atheists to challenges that "evangelists are driving the people right into our arms now and I'm delighted."
569-2582 (JOY-CLUB), also sponsored by American Atheists: A brand new weekly service that entertained callers the first week with a religious joke followed by the tenets of atheism.
532-3033, Falls Church Presbyterian Church Prayer Line: Consistently good daily mini-sermons, soothingly delivered by a man or woman. Topics range from a simple prayer of thanksgiving to a message for a hot day, combined with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
347-4341, Dial-a-Prayer, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church: A different message, style and voice greets callers every day on this prayer line, as members of the church share Scripture or a spiritual thought in a polished -- and not-so-polished -- manner. Overall the effect is pleasant.
270-9000, Reflections on Truth: The twice weekly recordings feature talks on such topics as prayer, evolution, or the life of a famous sculptor. Other times, a call might be answered with religious music or a dissertation on the effects of LSD.
234-5523, Dial-a-Prayer, Shiloh Baptist Church: Formal prayers of general thanksgiving led by the church pastor, the Rev. Henry C. Gregory III, and changed weekly.
347-7378, Prayer Line, Calvary Baptist Church: Interesting and lively mini-sermons by the pastor, the Rev. George Hill. The messages, however, are rarely changed.
338-1240, Dial-a-Sermonette, Divine Science Church of the Healing Christ: More prayers, sermons and scripture readings by clergy and members of the congregation, renewed several times a week.
737-8822, Dial-a-Devotion, Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church: Prayers of thanksgiving and spiritual messages by read clergy and laymen and changed frequently.
971-5555, Dial-aPrayer, a weekly interpretation or prayer of thanks.