Volga Conference is a part of the West Russian Union Conference in the Euro-Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Organized in 1994, it is headquartered in Saratov, Russian Federation.
Territory: The regions of Astrakhan, Penza, Samara, Saratov, Ul'yanovsk, and Volgograd.
Statistics (June 30, 2021): Churches, 50; membership, 2,714; population, 12,367,402.1
Origin of Adventist Work in the Territory of Volga Conference
The emergence and spread of Adventism in the Volga territory are closely associated with the region’s German colonists. The first missionary-preacher among Germans of the Volga Region was Conrad Laubhan (1838-1923), born and raised in the colony of Shcherbakovka (today the village of Shcherbakovka, Kamyshin District, Volgograd Region). Living in exile in the United States, he accepted the Adventist message and returned to Russia in 1886, where he began to preach actively. Soon Laubhan attracted the attention of the Seventh-day Adventist Central European Conference leaders. In 1887, he was ordained and became the first Adventist preacher among the Germans of the Volga territory. According to available statistics, in 1888 an Adventist church consisting of 18 members existed in Shcherbakovka. Reportedly, it was the first officially registered Adventist congregation in the Volga territory. The 1886 Annual Statistical Report of the Adventist Church, however, mentioned the Adventist presence also in such German colonies of the Volga territory as Dobrinka, Holstein, and Niedertal (today they are the small villages of Nizhnyaya Dobrinka, Verkhnyaya Galka, and Sarepta in the Volgograd Region).
Jacob Klein, a missionary from Nebraska, born and raised in the German colony of Frank (today the village of Frank, Zhirnovskiy District, Volgograd Region), became the second ordained preacher in that area. After graduating from the Missionary School in Hamburg, he returned to his native colony, where he organized a church. Because of his preaching, another resident of the colony of Frank, Heinrich Löbsack, joined the Adventist Church. Later, he was also ordained to pastoral ministry. His name became associated with the active preaching of the Adventist message not only in the Volga territory but throughout the Russian Empire.
According to the statistics of the Russian Missionary Field, 26 Adventists lived in the city of Warenburg in 1895, and 36 in 1896. Dobrinka had 37 members in 1910 and Saratov 36 members in 1907. Unfortunately, no statistics survive for other cities and settlements in which Adventist churches and companies already existed at that time.
With the proclamation of religious freedom in Russia in 1905-1906, Adventists became very successful in missionary work. The church in the city of Marx, reflecting the traditional Adventist concern for people's health, used donations to build a public clinic that existed until 1929. Now its former building houses a rehabilitation facility for children with special needs. Saratov also had an Adventist printing facility.
During September 26-30, 1907, the constituency meeting of the East Russian Missionary Field convened in Saratov. Ten years afterward, on July 20-24, 1917, the third All-Russian Congress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church met in Saratov in the Guffeld Gymnasium on Nemetskaya Street.
In the early years of the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia German preachers had a major role. Among them were W. Schmidt, G. Arnhold, Kaiser, Reifschne, Stein, Reinke, and Wegele. The third All-Russian Congress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church elected Schmidt as leader. Gustav Arnhold became chair of the Adventist community of the German Volga territory in 1927. Pastors Schwab, Remfert, and later Arnhold conducted their ministry in the cities of Saratov and Engels (Since the time of Catherine the Great the city of Engels [Pokrovsk] was the center of the German Volga territory). In 1929, the Soviet secret police arrested pastors Arnhold and Stein. Later the authorities released Arnhold but Stein died in prison. In 1934, a new wave of arrests imprisoned Arnhold and many other believers who died in Siberian labor camps.
Brother Anderson, another eminent Adventist pastor, served in Saratov 1927-1929. The popular Adventist magazine Golos istiny (March 1927) mentioned the growing interest in Adventist teaching in the Volga German Republic. That same year, Golos istiny (November 1927) published information about the second Congress of the Lower Volga Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Communities. The congress convened September 28 to October 2 in Saratov "in the new prayer room of the local community chapel in Ilyinskaya Street, number 29." At that time the Lower Volga Union comprised 13 churches and companies with 345 members who lived in the Saratov, Tambov, Penza, Stalingrad, and Astrakhan regions. A total of 32 delegates from those churches and companies attended. The same issue of Golos istiny contained an article about the sixth Congress of the German Volga Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Communities. It took place October 5–9, 1927, in the colony of Privolnoe. The village administration allowed the delegates to hold their meetings in a large conference hall with a seating capacity of 300. All seats were occupied and about 150 people had to remain standing. It was noted that in 1926 the number of church members increased by 48.
In 1929, government pressure against Adventists began. After the arrest of a Pastor Anderson, the center of Adventism in the Volga area shifted to the city of Kuybyshev.
In the 1930s, the members of the Adventist Church had to scatter. With the beginning of the Soviet-German war in 1941, all Germans living in the Volga area were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. The chapels closed, and believers had to meet in small groups at their homes. From that time on and until the early 1970s, Pastor Filimon Arnhold visited and took care of the groups of believers in Saratov, Stalingrad, Dobrinka, Petrov Vale, and Kuybyshev.
In 1954, the Germans who had returned from exile organized an Adventist company of eight members in the village of Otradnyy in the Samara (Kuybyshev) Region. Five more people joined them in 1956. In 1957 Johann-Georg Hamburger returned from exile and became the first Adventist in the village of Bereslavka in the Volgograd (Stalingrad) Region. By 1955-1956, an Adventist company appeared in the city of Uryupinsk, Volgograd Region. Then in 1974 it developed into an independent congregation. During the 1990s the addition of new members led to the companies becoming local churches.
The history of Adventism in the city of Astrakhan dates back to 1967 with the arrival of the family of Vasiliy Romanov. By 1979, there were already 33 Adventists in Astrakhan.
In 1973, Grigoriy Vorokhov went to serve in Ulyanovsk, where only three Adventists lived at that time. By 1991 a small local church had formed.
Among the regional centers of the Volga area, Penza was the latest where the Adventists appeared, because it was a “forbidden” city during the Soviet times. At first, an Adventist woman moved from Minsk to Penza in 1988. The next year a future pastor, Mikhail Trusyuk, and his family came to the city, and in 1990 two German families moved from Kazakhstan to Penza. Thus, bit by bit, an Adventist congregation developed that numbered 23 members in 1993.
With the end of the Soviet period, religious freedom emerged in the Russian state. The early 1990s was a time of awakening public interest in religion and for conducting large evangelistic programs, which resulted in the establishment of new congregations.
Organizational History of the Volga Conference
The Volga Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as an independent entity of the West Russian Union Conference, organized in January 1994 by splitting the former Volga-Ural Conference into the Volga, Volgo-Vyatskaya, and Ural conferences.
The first constituency meeting of the Volga Conference took place on January 4, 1994. The delegates elected Pavel Katzel as president. At that time, the Volga Conference comprised 13 local churches with 2,291 members. During the next year, the number of churches increased to 18 with a total of 2,706 members. By the end of 2003, 46 churches comprising a total of 4,286 members existed in the Volga Conference. Membership increased mainly as a result of large-scale evangelistic programs.
Since 2004, the membership has gradually decreased in the Volga Conference. At the end of June 2018, it had only 2,955 members in 52 churches. Despite such a significant reduction in membership, the Adventist churches of the Volga Conference are continuing their ministry. Every year some 60 new members join in the Volga area. At present, outreach is mainly carried out through the Centers of Influence, or social centers, opened in chapels. The visitors to such centers not only receive material aid but also learn more about healthy life principles and Bible doctrines. Some churches are successful in conducting the Church Cafe program. In the village of Yagodnaya Polyana in the Saratov Region a Health Center opened.
Pavel A. Katzel, 1994-1997; Viktor I. Korchuk, 1997-2000; Georgiy D. Stolyar, 2000-2003; Boris P. Kucheruk, 2003-2007; Vadim S. Butov, 2007-2010; Boris P. Kucheruk, 2010-2011; Alexander A. Salov, 2011- .
Due to decades of persecution, historical sources were very often not preserved in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and as a result, Adventist history in Russia and other successor states of the USSR is dependent on collective memory and oral traditions, on which this article draws.
Grigorenko, A.Yu. Eskhatologia, millenarizm, adventizm: istoriya i sovremennost’: filosofsko-religiovedcheskiye ocherki. St. Petersburg: Evropeyskiy Dom, 2004.
Rusanov, V. A., S. I. Maryan, and S. I. Zamogilnyy. Adventizm v mire, v Rossii, v Saratovskoy gubernii. Saratov: Slovo, 2011.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.
Volga Conference Archives. Saratov, Russian Federation.
Zaitsev, E.V. Istoriya Tserkvi ASD. Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008.
“Volga Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (2021), https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=10077.↩