Build my church: Saginaw man's LEGO project has inspired Catholics for 20 years

John Kraemer, a parishioner at Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Saginaw, displays his “Lego Church Project,” which he builds each year from scratch. Kraemer, who has cerebral palsy, has designed a different church each year for the past 20 years, and says the project allows him to express his creativity and raise awareness of disabilities. (Facebook photos)

John Kraemer's 'Lego Church Project' highlights beauty of faith, raises awareness of those with disabilities

SAGINAW — John Kraemer has cerebral palsy, which limits his ability to drive or work.

Despite the challenge, he has demonstrated, brick by brick, how those with disabilities can share their God-given talents with others.

For the past 20 years, Kraemer has evangelized by displaying his “Lego Church Project,” a replica Catholic parish built using LEGO bricks. Kraemer begins each project “season” in February or March, and it takes about two months to finish a church, depending on the detail. He uses anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 bricks.

Accuracy is key, so Kraemer includes a congregation, musicians and clergy to ensure each creation is an accurate representation of a church.

Kraemer's creation is detailed down to the last brick, including stained-glass windows, altar and tabernacle pieces and a congregation that sometimes includes special “guests” such as Batman and Luke Skywalker. 

“For someone who isn’t trained as an architect, it is a challenge,” Kraemer said. “I never fully know what I’m going to do until I sit down at the bricks and start figuring things out. Is the cross going to be placed near the altar, or in the back so you can see what the priest sees? Once I get everything mapped out, I can decide what the building is going to look like.”

Because he cannot drive, Kraemer relies on the generosity of others so he can share his seasonal creations at parishes throughout the state. Some years, he holds up to four showcases, but he always ends his season by displaying the Lego Church Project at his home parish, Christ the Good Shepherd in Saginaw, during Advent.

“John never fails to impress me with his creativity, his ability to overcome disability and his passion for the faith,” Fr. Ron Wagner, pastor at Christ the Good Shepherd Parish, told Detroit Catholic. “It's become his way of expressing his love for the Church and evangelizing.”

Kraemer often puts surprises into each design. One might find Batman or Luke Skywalker in the congregation, for instance.

Kraemer's 20th season includes a special altar and “relic” of Blessed Solanus Casey, which is a scale-model replica of the first-class reliquary housed at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

“He usually points out that the grey-haired priest at the altar is me,” Fr. Wagner said. “It also expresses a vision of the Church as being inclusive to all races and cultures and to those who are handicapped. The pews are always full, as any pastor would love to see. … It's a lot more than a grown man playing with toys; it's his way of expressing what he believes. A lot of prayer goes into each design, and we feel blessed to have his work on display in our church each Advent and Christmas.”

Kraemer was always fond of LEGOs as a kid. When his friends were creating spaceships, he was building basic box frames, which slowly developed into churches. His inspiration comes from his faith and passion for the Catholic Church, as well as studying pictures of churches on social media.

“I love it when I’m able to visit a parish and interact with the people and see their faces when they look at the project,” Kraemer said. “People who follow me on social media are always wondering what I’m going to come up with next and how I’m going to outdo myself. There is no limit to what I can do other than the limits of the work station I’m working on.”

Kraemer's 20th season church is seen on display. He blogs his reflections at
John Kraemer poses with his creation and Fr. Jose-Maria Cabrera, pastor of All Saints Parish in Bay City.

Although the project takes up much of his time, Kraemer blogs his spiritual reflections at He sings in his church choir, is a licensed amateur radio operator, is a guest speaker on podcasts and raises awareness for those with disabilities.

“No matter what challenge or disability you face, God can still use your talents in creative ways,” Kraemer said. “God has given me this talent to share with everyone. The overall goal is to give people hope and to let them know God is with them no matter what they face.

“I’ve been reflecting on the past 20 years, and I never thought that I’d be doing this for so long,” he added. “There are a lot of places I would like to go with the project if the opportunity presents itself. We never know where God is going to send us. When we surrender to God, all things become possible.”

John Kraemer’s Season 20 church is now on display at Christ the Good Shepherd, 2445 North Charles Street, Saginaw. Mass times are 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. on Sundays.