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Worshippers Joyfully Return To Church In Person With COVID-19 Capacity Restrictions Lifted

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Life as we know it is slowly returning to normal.

Over the last year, we have seen restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic close everything from businesses to churches. But this weekend, as CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, many of those same churches welcomed new and returning faces for the first time since last March.

Many worship services dropped their capacity limits as the city and state did on Friday.

"I have not been here since March of 2020," said Tasha McShan. "So it's been a while."

On Sunday, McShan was one of many who returned to worship for the first time in over a year at a Chicago church. As the city eased COVID restrictions, so did the Chicago Archdiocese.

"Mask wearing is optional, and then also, we don't have to do temperature checks and we don't have to check off the names anymore -- so I think it's just a big relief," said church usher Virginia Coleman.

For many, worship in the pandemic has been a virtual experience, as COVID restrictions put a cap on large gatherings.

"I couldn't have gotten through without my faith -- you know, the old three F's: faith, family, and friends -- and so I would do mass on Zoom," said churchgoer Richele O'Conner.

Online viewership after March 2020 skyrocketed for churches like Old St. Pat's in the West Loop. Their live streams soared from 500 to 30,000 views per video.

And then there were the churches that pushed back – asking for capacity exemptions and holding packed services against the state's order.

But now, as COVID rates fall, back are the packed pews, the holy water, the choirs.

And churchgoers we spoke to found it all to be a powerful experience.

"It was like coming home again," said churchgoer Estelle Martin.

"To do it in person today, and to do the 'peace be with you,' and to look around - it was something very emotional," O'Conner added.

The Chicago Archdiocese said while masks are not required for vaccinated people, they are recommended for unvaccinated children and for pastors celebrating infant baptisms.

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