TERRE HAUTE, IN (WTWO/WAWV) — Local church leaders have said they are more prepared to handle the COVID-19 pandemic while still helping people celebrate the holidays.

More people are gathering for church services, not only because of the holiday season but because COVID-19 protocols have been scaled back.

Last year, those who wanted to attend St. Benedict Church holiday masses had to make reservation so that social distancing could be achieved.

This year, no reservation is needed and they are eager to fill the church as they continue to celebrate holidays.

“Wonderful feeling to see our family coming back together and folks who we maybe didn’t see at all last year, we’re starting to see those folks come back,” Rita Burns-Senseman, director of religious education for St. Benedict Church, said. “Although there are still many folks who feel safest at home.”

Sister Paula Damiano with Sisters of Providence said many people she has spoken with are excited to be attending church in person once again.

“People say, I was really glad that I could watch it on live-stream but it’s so different when I’m actually here in the church really being with a community of believers,” Sister Damiano, co-director of Sisters of Providence Spirituality, said.

Churches like St. Benedict have begun planning for annual Christmas events, such as their annual children’s play depicting the story of Jesus.

“We actually already have more people registered this year than last year,” Burns-Senseman said. “So we do that at the very beginning of mass and we bless the nativity scene and so we’re looking forward to doing that to an even fuller gusto than we did last year.”

Though dealing with the pandemic has made things difficult for many, Sister Damiano said she believes it has played a part in more people returning to church.

“In some ways, I think that COVID maybe has encouraged people to come back to the faith,” Damiano said. “People who feel like through this, they’ve had to rely more and more on God because there was a point where things seemed incredibly serious and drastic.”

Both churches said they will still require masks to be worn while attending services.