Brick by Brick: the Lego Church Project

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"Lego church project" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 J.M. Kraemer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

What’s the biggest structure your kids have ever built with LEGO bricks? They might be impressed to know that J.M. Kraemer of Saganaw, Michigan, uses LEGO to build giant churches (nearly four feet long and two feet wide) that take up to two months to construct and use more than 20,000 parts.

Now in its 20th season, the Lego Church Project is a labor of love for Mr. Kraemer, who is unable to work or drive due to a disability. A mild form of cerebral palsy limits his activities in some ways, but despite his challenges he has found a way to make the most of his creativity. In doing so, Mr. Kraemer, a member of the Knights of Columbus, shares his faith and a message of hope for people with disabilities.

"Lego church project" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS (CatholicMom.com)

J.M. Kraemer with his most recent build. Copyright 2019 J.M. Kraemer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

What do you do with the churches after you build them?

Currently I’m doing around three or four displays per season. I could easily do around six or seven displays from May to December, with a decent mix of multi-week runs and single events. Because of the nature of how I do the project every year, some of those events could turn into multi-year runs. Every year is a new project. Each season tells a different story. So if I’m coming back to a location I was at the previous year, then that means I have a brand new building to show off.

What do you hope people learn from your project?

How important the Mass is to the Catholic faith. Our parishes are the backbone of our lives. It is not just a place we meet every weekend. It is a place where we come to celebrate Christ and to rebuild our faith from all the stuff that goes on in a typical week. The Catholic Mass is one of the most amazing and beautiful things one can take part in, because of the rich history that is contained within.

My project is a snapshot of that parish life that is played out at parishes all over the world. The project in that respect has become prayer that more people would come home and that people would be reminded of how important the Mass is, how important is to take a more active role in our parish communities.

"Lego church project" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 J.M. Kraemer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

How is raising awareness a part of your mission?

I show that even if you have a disability or other challenges that God can still use your talents. I have a mild form of cerebral palsy. I am showing the love and compassion that God shows me daily.

I’ve had many people get outright surprised that I have a mild form of cerebral palsy. It catches them off guard and makes my work stand out even more. But the moments to plant seeds are very fleeting at most. I’ve often thought about trying to create some kind of talk that I could give about what I feel is important in raising awareness and hope for those of us who deal with challenges — a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve seen this firsthand in some of the people who look into the project, to realize that they are able to do more than what their limits suggest.

My feeling is that if God has been kind enough to give me this amazing talent then it is something that I need to share, to show others that even if you have some kind of challenge God can still use your talents. Often those talents are used in amazing and creative ways.

"Lego church project" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 J.M. Kraemer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

What do kids think about your project? What kind of reaction do you get from young people who see what you have created?

There is an honest toss-up: Who loves the project more — the kids or the adults? With the kids, they see something that is fascinating and down right amazing. Most have never seen such large LEGO creations in person. They love to see the details on the inside and all the odd things I throw in. They truly enjoy my work and will rush over to see it.
The adults also love it because it reminds them of other times, such as when the parish communities were more active. I’ve seen the older generations stop over [to]reflect on the past. It is such an amazing feeling when you see the reactions in all the generations. Each one gains something in their own ways, which is why I love showing off my work and sharing my talent with others.

Do you pray while you work?

“Praying at the Bricks” is an expression that I use when I’m working on one of my creations, as I do spend a decent amount of time in prayer while I’m building. I’m building the faith one (LEGO) brick at a time!

How can readers learn more, schedule a display, or help with your project?

Visit my website to find out how to schedule a display and help with the project.

I’m always looking for LEGO bricks/parts. I also do accept monetary donations so I can purchase specific parts. I also have an Amazon wish list for specific parts.

Learn more about the Lego Church Project on Facebook and Twitter.

"Lego church project" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 J.M. Kraemer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

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About Author

Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom, Secular Franciscan, managing editor for Today's Catholic Teacher magazine and editor at CatholicMom.com. Her three children range in age from high school to young adult, and she enjoys writing, cooking, and reading. Barb is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count.

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