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While some LEGO enthusiasts content themselves with pre-designed packages of blocks meant to create a specific structure, John Kraemer thinks outside the box. This LEGO architect runs the LEGO Church Project, a one-man artistic pursuit that has seen a new enormous LEGO church built each year. The project is a labor of love, and one that Kraemer uses as a vehicle to promote his faith and awareness of people with disabilities.
The builds are magnificent in design. Many of these miniature church structures – which are still large enough to fit on a sheet of plywood – are two floors high. One thing that makes Kraemer’s work stand out is his attention to detail, such as a full congregation of 200 tiny LEGO people and realistic looking stained glass. Each build requires about 20,000 LEGO blocks and measures 45 x 24 x 24 inches.
Kraemer started the LEGO Church Project in 2001, but his enthusiasm for the block toys goes back to his childhood. In an interview with Word on Fire, he explained that he began building with his friends as a boy. The other kids were working on spaceships and objects, but Kraemer always gravitated towards buildings. He explained:
“Over time those buildings started turning into churches, which is something that was very much an important part of growing up—church and family. In those early days, I had no idea which direction God would take me with this.”
As his skills progressed, he began more complicated builds and, after some success, he began the LEGO Church Project. Since 2016, he’s been running the whole project out of a blog called “Praying at the Bricks,” where past builds can be perused.
Rather than playtime, however, Kraemer uses his builds for some much needed pray-time. In this case, he told Word on Fire he calls it “praying with [his] hands.”
“In that way the project has brought about my own awareness to the various needs and desires within the Church. It has allowed me to deepen my own prayer life. It makes me more focused on the world around me.”
One of the guiding forces behind Kraemer’s 20-year drive to continue his efforts lies in his own disability. In a video he posted on his YouTube page, he explained that he has a mild case of cerebral palsy. He said:
“On one hand, it is about the faith. Obviously for me it’s a chance to share my passion for the Catholic faith in a deep and creative way. It also gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents and abilities. To show that even if you have a disability like I do, that God can still use your talent in amazing and creative ways.”
Kraemer went on to note that people with disabilities sometimes struggle to find their own self worth. He remarked that the LEGO Church Project has been a way to flip the script on societal standards that can devalue the disabled. He said:
“It bothers me to no end, to be perfectly honest, because I see myself – even though I’ve got a mild case of cerebral palsy and all the interconnected issues with it – that I still have some kind of value. I still have something to offer even if it is just primarily hope.”