Although the parish structure of the early German-Russian colonies was probably identical to the Wolost structure, when the number of daughter colonies increased significantly it became impossible for pastors to serve the large number of villages. Re-structuring of the parishes, based upon proximity to the resident village of the pastor, probably preceded the restructuring of the Wolosts. In addition, as villages such as Kassel increased in population, there was a desire by the local congregation to have more frequent services conducted in the local church by a pastor. There probably also was a desire to better serve the congregations in the daughter colonies. The improved financial situation of such villages made it possible for them to establish a new parish and support a pastor. The village of Kassel was the first of the Glückstal Colonies to establish its separate parish. This took place in 1851. Bergdorf followed with an independent parish in 1865. In the case of Bergdorf, “After long negotiations with the Consistory [in St. Petersburg], the Minister of the Interior confirmed the new parish [in Bergdorf], and in the year 1865 the first pastor, named Baumann, arrived here” [Glückstal-2004, p. 123]. Perhaps documents will surface in the future that will provide us with information regarding the process and negotiations that took place.
From the early years of settlement, there were disagreements between the Lutherans and their more pietistic fellow Germans. Some of the Pietists were fellow Lutherans and some were members of the Reformed faith before they emigrated. In addition the tradition of Stunden, lay-led religious meetings in homes, was brought to South Russia by the Pietist Lutherans from Württemberg, and perhaps from elsewhere (often identified as the “Brotherhood” movement). That tradition continued in the Glückstal Colonies, and eventually in North America.
However, things were managed in the Glückstal Colonies for some time without an actual split because the pastors were willing to serve the beliefs of both constituencies in the congregations. A desire on the part of the Reformed believers for separation from the Lutherans began with the publication of the statutes for the Lutheran Church in Russia in December of 1832. By 1852 the Reformed believers in the Glückstal district began a campaign to establish a Reformed Parish independent of the Lutheran Consistory in St. Petersburg, which was finally granted them on 4 January 1861. That year the Neudorf Reformed Parish was established, with congregations and schools in Neudorf, Kassel and Glückstal. In 1881 Glückstal is still listed by the Odessa Kalender [OdKal] as being part of the Reformed parish, but in that year it no longer had a separate school, and no Reformed congregation is listed there after 1883. Kassel continues to be part of the Neudorf Reformed parish with a congregation and school.
The Odessa Kalender provides us with information between the years of 1881 and 1915, the only volumes that are known to be extant. The parish listings, which began in 1872, provided 1) the name of the parish (Kirchspiel), 2) the name of the pastor (Pastor in Lutheran parishes and Geistlichen in Reformed parishes), 3) a list of the villages that belonged to the parish, 4) the name of the school teacher and assistants for each village, and 5) the number of students in the village school. From 1892 there were listings for the German teacher, the Russian teacher and the assistants. A completely separate listing is given for the Reformed parishes, and the Odessa Kalender only lists four Reformed parishes in the Odessa region between 1881 and 1915: Odessa, Chabag, Neudorf and Rohrbach. Although Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists also established themselves well before 1915, parishes for these denominations are not listed in the Odessa Kalender. For a more complete discussion of the church in the Glückstal Colonies, see [Glückstal-2004], p. 357-393.
We are fortunate to have additional information on the parishes of the Glückstal colonies before 1881, provided by Matthäi [Matthäi, p.64]. In his foreword he states that he draws information from ten different sources, which he cites. His information on the Lutheran parishes is drawn from [Kirchen], published in 1862. For that reason Matthäi, whose book was published in 1866, still listed Bergdorf (created as an independent Lutheran parish in 1865) as part of the Glückstal Lutheran parish. He includes information on the Glückstal and Kassel Lutheran parishes in the Glückstal district.
Regarding Reformed parishes, [Hamm, p. 226] states “The Evangelical-Reformed created only two parishes in Odessa and in Chabag, Bessarabia.” He does not cite the new Neudorf Reformed Parish, created in January 1861 because his study is based upon information he accumulated on a trip to South Russia in 1858-1859. The foreword to his book is dated “1861, Leipzig.”
More of this article can be found in [Glückstal-2004], pp. 205-215 & 127-167.
By Homer Rudolf, 2009
Edited and updated by Sandy Schilling Payne, 2022