God no longer toll-free

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Who has a hotline to heaven? A controversy over competing claims to that honour is heating up in the Netherlands.

The story began last spring, when a statue of an angel holding a mobile phone was unveiled at St John’s Cathedral in the southern Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch.

The angel was one of 25 new statues revealed to mark the completion of a lengthy restoration of the cathedral. "The angel's phone has just one button," the sculptor told journalists. "It dials God directly."

Within weeks an enterprising local woman had opened a mobile telephone number and Twitter account, called ut Engelke ('the little angel'). She says she receives 30 calls per day on average, many of them from people who just want to talk about their problems. Some come from schoolchildren who need help with their homework. All calls are free, so her callers pay only the regular rates for ringing a mobile telephone.

Not to be outdone, St John's church has now established its own hotline to God, a toll number that costs callers 80 cents per minute. Callers hear a recorded message explaining that all proceeds go to the upkeep of the cathedral.

The owner of ut Engelke says she's received dozens of calls from people who are angry at the church for stealing the idea. "They're just jumping on the bandwagon," she told ANP news agency.