Pastor Per Almquist of the Free Grace Presbyterian Church in Lewiston, who is also a 4th degree black belt in karate, spoke of how both worlds share a passion for cultivating community. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Per Almquist and his family moved to Lewiston in 2007 to establish the Free Grace Presbyterian Church and almost immediately found Pelletier’s Karate Academy.

Since then, the two organizations have become interconnected by a shared sense of community — spiritual faith mixed with strengthening your neighbors around you.

What began as a simple outlet for his three young sons to expend some excess energy turned into something much more meaningful for Almquist and his family. He and his sons all hold black belts of varying degrees, and Almquist is an instructor, or sensei, and office manager there.

Almquist, 48, grew up playings sports, but never martial arts. When his sons got involved, he started helping out around the academy.

The family became close with Rich Pelletier, the founder of the karate academy who has since died. Pelletier became a member of Free Grace church, and Almquist and Pelletier connected over their shared views. While the pair operated in different spheres, both had an overall vision of strengthening the community around them. Almquist said Pelletier would spend time after hours talking with families about life outside of the academy.

He said at Free Grace, their view is “being part of the community and doing things to better and strengthen it.” When he realized Pelletier’s vision of “building a community that works to make our larger community a better place,” it mirrored the purpose of the church.


“Karate is as much about building the character of the student as it is about the physical skills,” he said. “It mirrors the idea of the church, where it’s not a religious social club but a community that’s built.”

His three sons range are between 18 and 24 years old. All of them are either second- or third-degree black belts. His wife, Beth Almquist, is the music director at the church, as well as a staff member at the Lewiston Public Library.

It’s safe to say the two entities have become intertwined for Almquist, who said through the years some at Pelletier’s have reached out to him in his pastor role during personal struggles.

“It can rise to a lot of conversations,” he said. “A lot of people who may not have a church home or a religious background but need someone to talk with, and even someone to pray with. So we’ve been able to have people come in and be that community for them.”

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