John Kraemer has compared life and Catholic faith to his Lego Church Project.
“Sometimes things don’t always go the way you plan, so you have to be flexible on how to solve problems,” he said. “It’s tearing down, then rebuilding your faith and rebuilding yourself in the process.”
Kraemer, 35, of Saginaw, Mich., has a mild form of cerebral palsy that impacts some of his motor skills, and a learning disability that prevents him from being employed full time. In his free time, he volunteers with an amateur radio emergency service.
He also builds churches out of Legos.
A creative passion
Lego bricks are children’s construction toys that inspired a global subculture of serious and elaborate creations with festivals and competitions. Kraemer doesn’t go that far, but he puts his passion into an annual and ongoing project of building churches and displaying them. He sets them up in the lobby of his apartment complex, and the current one is on display in the front foyer of his church — St. Helen Parish in Saginaw.
|The interior of one of John Kraemer’s Lego churches. Courtesy of John Kraemer
This is Season 13 for the project, and this year’s church was recently shown at the local Knights of Columbus.
“Building them is a chance for me to share my talent with others, and also to highlight the fact that even if you have a disability, which I do, I am still able to do something positive,” he said. “Sometimes people are having a bad day and they see the church and smile, and I realize that something good, something positive, has come out of it.”
Kraemer started building with Lego bricks when he was 5 or 6 years old, and his collection grew. He made his first church in 2001 and displayed it at the Mount Zion Catholic Charismatic Community in Montrose, Mich. The idea took off as an annual project.
Each one takes months to build, and he often works as long as eight hours a day. The interiors evolve with detailed altars, organs, crosses, church furnishings and hundreds of tiny people seated in pews. The 2008-2009 church was the biggest at 47 inches long, and a bell tower made last year’s project the tallest.
Sign of faith
Kraemer lost count of all the Lego pieces he has, but estimates that the 40 pounds of bricks he keeps in a 25-gallon can number “at least 10,000, if not more.”
Sometimes he encounters snags in building the churches. In the 2005-2006 project, the dome on the roof had a half-inch gap in lining up.
“So I chopped off the top, put in a plate and it worked for what it was,” he said.
And so it goes with life, he added, when things aren’t working out.
“That’s one of the important things, that you have to rebuild yourself from what’s going on,” he said. “That’s what prayer is for.”
Kraemer often meditates and prays while he builds. “It’s a quiet time for reflection, and I pray for whatever is going on,” he said. “It’s a good way to converse with God.”
Making the churches has been an outward sign of Kraemer’s faith.
“My faith is what has gotten me through challenges,” he said. “When you have disabilities, you are not just fighting the issues around you, but you are also fighting your own limitations, and sometimes you don’t realize those limits. When you do, that can be frightening, and you just have to put yourself in the hands of God and trust that he will help you through the storms.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.