PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – With Easter Sunday just days away, local religious leaders are expecting church pews to fill back up, after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

For the majority of the last two years, COVID-19 has caused churches to adapt services, whether it was going online, or enforcing social distancing and masking.

“For a long time, we weren’t doing any congregational singing. We didn’t want to spread anything,” said Reverend Dr. Gregory Coates, pastor at Glasford United Methodist Church. “We wouldn’t pass the offering plate, instead we had it in the back of the sanctuary and people would just throw it in there.”

With restrictions now lifted, Reverend Coates said the church has welcomed more normalcy.

“We’ve been meeting with the local Lutheran church and having a potluck weekly downstairs in the Fellowship Hall. It’s been the first time we’ve been able to eat together in two years,” Reverend Coates said.

Bishop Louis Tylka of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria said some important lessons have been learned from the virus.

“We learned how much we need to be together. We’ve learned how much we miss social interaction, that doesn’t take place over a cell phone or even a Zoom chat,” Bishop Tylka said.

On April 10, Palm Sunday, Bishop Tylka reinstated an in-person Sunday Mass obligation, which had previously been suspended.

“Singing and praying, responding and certainly receiving communion, there’s no substitute for that,” Tylka said.

With Easter Sunday on the horizon, Coates and Tylka said they are thankful to gather and worship, without limitations.

“We’re really grateful. We thank this is going to be a great weekend of a lot of worship and celebrating the resurrection of our Lord,” Coates said.

“Even though we’re not completely done dealing with the pandemic, we’ve moved far enough along that we can be together and celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ,” Tylka said.

Coates and Tylka said that online services remain available, for those unable to attend due to sickness or other issues.