When the 1985 flood damaged Riverside Mennonite Church
by Elwood Yoder
Bible and social studies teacher at Eastern Mennonite School, Harrisonburg, Va.
When the Dry Fork River in West Virginia rose to record levels in November 1985, the Riverside Mennonite Church flooded, and the church suffered much damage. Randolph County, W.Va., got over a foot of rain in two days, and the 40-50 Riverside members needed help to clean up and fix their building.
At flood stage, the meetinghouse and parking lot, three miles north of Harman, W.Va., were in danger of being swept away by the roiling river. Water came up to the window sills, and the benches floated inside. What probably saved the building was a large number of trees that floated against the building and kept the structure intact.
The Shenandoah Valley Mennonite Disaster Service organization responded immediately once roads became passable. Volunteers began cleaning up in the area around the Riverside church, and after that, volunteers went to the Harman area to help. Students from EMHS and Eastern Mennonite College went out by the van load to help clean up and fix up. One group of EMHS students pulled piles of dead turkeys from a field, some of which had already partially decayed.
From 1932-2017, Riverside Mennonite Church was part of the Middle District (later Central District) of Virginia Mennonite Conference. The Middle District Council authorized a generous donation to help in renovating and rebuilding. The church ordered new hymnals, new pews, and a new rug; replaced some aluminum siding; and completed significant dozer work on the parking lot. Riverside
pastors Joe Mininger and Woodie Sites waited a month before calling Sunday morning services again. Volunteers Paul and Nancy Showalter spent substantial time and energy leading the renovation efforts.
By August 1987, the church’s renovations were complete, with a new kitchen, Sunday school rooms, and indoor toilets. The building project was finished debt free, and a celebration service was held at the church on August 30, 1987. A church bulletin from that era carried the banner “Spared for a Purpose.” It took the concerted efforts of MDS resources, local help, community volunteers, and young people from Harrisonburg to help Riverside Mennonite Church recover from the devastating flood of 1985.