‘We try to welcome everyone the same way Christ welcomed us’, local churches prepare for Christmas services

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – With Christmas just days away, churches across Central Illinois are preparing for larger groups of worshipers. Despite a few changes, some pastors said Christmas services this year may not look much different from the last.

During Christmas of 2020, Riverside Community Church in downtown Peoria had been re-opened due to COVID-19 for about six months.

“We were still seeing people start to slowly come back to in-person services and we thought this year would look a little bit different,” said Michael Ritchason, lead pastor at Riverside Community Church.

With cases on the rise and the presence of the Omicron variant, Ritchason said Christmas of 2021 may look similar to 2020.

On Christmas Eve, Riverside Community Church will host an in-person service.

“The Lord has blessed us with a large building so even if you don’t feel comfortable being around people, there are people that sit in the balcony, and they’re able to social distance,” Ritchason said.

The church will also continue to make virtual and online options available.

“Even since COVID started all the back in March of 2020, we continue to make that a priority for the people that maybe didn’t feel comfortable coming back quite yet,” Ritchason said.

While some things remain the same as last year, Chad Manbeck, lead pastor at Richwoods Christian Church in Peoria, said some things have also changed.

“There’s vaccines, there’s boosters. There’s more knowledge, there’s more information,” Manbeck said.

This week, Richwoods Christian church will host three live in-person services that will stream online as well.

“We try to welcome everyone the same way Christ welcomed us and we try to do that in-person and online. We don’t make those decisions for people,” Manbeck said.

Manbeck said while attending church may have been an opportunity once taken for granted, it won’t be anymore.

“We all thought this always happens, we’ll always be together, we can always do Sunday, but for a time we couldn’t and it wasn’t wise to, and so it has really raised appreciation,” Manbeck said.

Ritchason said whether they decide to visit church in-person or watch online, he hopes the community finds hope this Christmas season.

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