by Helen Brinkman

When the Brisbane Bears joined what was to become the Australian Football League (AFL) in 1987, who would have guessed the ripples of opportunity that flowed from its emergence as the first Queensland-based club?

The club’s home at the famed Gabba, the Brisbane Cricket Ground, created an unexpected boon for the good folk of the nearby Nazareth Lutheran Church, Woolloongabba.

For the past three decades, the Bears’ home matches, and those of their successor the Brisbane Lions, have created an ongoing fundraising opportunity for the church.

Located 600 metres up the road from the Gabba, a tenant in one of the church rental properties first noted a few cars parking on the church property on game days.

It wasn’t long before all vacant space owned by the historic Hawthorn Street church was up for grabs for home matches, coordinated by longstanding Nazareth members Ruth and Colin Schneider.

Ruth and Colin, now both 81, took responsibility for organising paid parking, firstly on the congregation’s vacant lots, then its car parks and grounds. It was $5 a car park for footy patrons. ‘In the end, we could get 90 cars because Colin and I would do it together. He’d park them, and I’d stand at the gate and collect the money’, says Ruth.

In the early years, the operation become more sophisticated when Colin set up temporary spotlights for evening matches. Additional parking spaces were utilised around the church property, its kindergarten and across the road at Nazareth’s then-senior citizens’ home.

As development occurred, parking opportunities changed but never stopped. The Schneiders were helped by fellow members and enjoyed the camaraderie of fans usually enjoying fun, pre-match banter about their beloved teams – and yes, they still do allow opposition team supporters equal access to the car parks!

‘It was a fun time and everyone’s happy because they are going to the footy’, says Colin.

Even when the church was gutted by fire in May 2000, the car parking continued.

Colin recalls how most parkers, who were now regulars and had seen details of the church fire plastered over the news, had donated generously toward the church restoration fund. ‘We’d be getting $50 notes just given to us’, he says.

And Ruth even saved the church from a $300 fine for a misplaced parking sign, after a written plea to the Brisbane Lord Mayor asking him to waive the fine as the church had recently burnt down and the parking funds were supporting its re-build.

For Ruth and Colin, car parking has been part of a life-long connection to the church. ‘It has been part of our lives to be at church, and you see things that need to be done, and you think, “I can do that”’, says Ruth.

‘The people you meet are normally so lovely and you enjoy their company. You have happy times; your friends are there and it’s a good feeling when you do something like this.’ The pair coordinated the fundraiser for almost 20 years, agonising over raising the parking price after the first decade, first to $6 then to $10.

In 2004, the Schneiders passed the baton to a series of fellow members. Most recently committee member and octogenarian Eric Parups worked with other members to keep the fundraiser going for almost two more decades and has supported a transition to new members this year.

‘It’s going to a good cause, and we quite often get more additional money from parkers as a donation’, Eric says.

The parking price has this year risen to $20, with regular parkers not batting an eyelid as the fundraising is earmarked to support domestic violence shelter, Mary and Martha. Serendipitously, this refuge has been a church mission since its inception by the Nazareth congregation more than 35 years ago.

Nazareth now provides regular donations for bedding that is given to clients moving to more permanent accommodation. And each home match collects about $600 for the cause.

After running in the shadow of the Gabba for 35 years now, the fundraiser shows no sign of waning. Who knows what boon the upcoming Olympic Games in 2032 may bring? Regardless, the Schneiders’ favourite Bible verse sets the tone: ‘The Lord your God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Deuteronomy 31:6).

The author is a member of Nazareth Lutheran Church, Woolloongabba.

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