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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2003

`Hello, is God there?' Moviegoers dial to find out

BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

TAMPA - From the Deep South to the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains, a lot of people apparently want to know: Does God really have a telephone?

Mortals who happen to share God's telephone number - or at least the one He uses in the new movie Bruce Almighty - have spent days now taking calls from curious dialers, snickering cranks, and desperate souls.

In the hit movie, a TV newsman played by Jim Carrey is endowed by God with divine powers, allowing him to perform such feats as parting a bowl of tomato soup like the Red Sea. God's phone number is repeatedly displayed on the newsman's pager whenever the Lord tries to summon him.

Jane Cawgin of suburban Detroit hasn't seen the movie - yet. But since her cell phone has the same number in the 734 area code, she has learned a bit about it. So far, she's gotten about 50 calls.

“I'm laughing it off but it could get irritating,” she said. “If it continues it will probably boost up my cell phone bill.”

The calls began Friday and steadily escalated. “They'd ask for lottery numbers or say, `Is Jim Carrey there?'” she said.

At first she was perplexed. Her son, Cody, 16, solved the mystery after seeing the movie. Her callers have been mostly curious about who will answer.

“Some asked, `Is God there?' and I'd say `yeah' and laugh and they'd hang up,” she said. “People have been nice. Nobody has been rude.”

In the 419 area code, the number has been disconnected.

Usually, movies and TV shows use the phony telephone exchange 555. But Bruce Almighty used a seven-digit number with a real exchange.

Many moviegoers have remembered the number and dialed it in their area codes.

A woman in Pinellas Park, Fla., has threatened to sue the movie studio because of the 20 calls per hour clogging her cell phone. A Denver radio network received dozens of calls yesterday, five days after the movie hit theaters, and is planning to build a contest around the phenomenon.

In Sanford, N.C., the listing belongs to a church with a minister actually named Bruce. And he is not amused.

“It's a movie that mocks God and makes a mockery of religion,” said the Rev. Bruce MacInnes, pastor of Turner's Chapel Church. “I'm not too thrilled with it at all. But the Lord God is one that could use something that's meant for evil and turn it around for good. So this may very well be the reason that that number showed up.”

Universal Pictures, which produced the film, said in a statement yesterday that the phone number was chosen because it does not exist in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, where the movie is set. The studio offered no further comment.

A database search turned up more than 30 listings nationwide for the number .

In Cornelia, Ga., the number belongs to the Rev. Patrick Collington, an evangelist who runs Souls for Christ Ministries. His wife, Tracy, said they have gotten about 100 calls since Friday - mostly people asking for God and hanging up - but they are not bothered.

The family went to see the movie Tuesday night and loved it. “It was funny, and knowing God's phone number was our number was really something to be excited about,” she said.

Donna Augustin of Parrish, Fla., said her family has gotten about 200 God calls since Friday. Her three children think it is hilarious. A new message on their answering machine informs callers that they have reached “God's messenger.”



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