CHICAGO (CBS) — A wait list for Christmas Eve mass?

In the age of Omicron, that’s a reality at one North Side church in Chicago, and they’re not the only ones taking precautions.

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CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reports from St. Andrew in Roscoe Village on what churches are doing this year. The key word this year is options. Many churches want to give people choices: in person or online, social distanced or full capacity.

One church even offers outside prayer services this week for people who aren’t ready to worship inside. But it turns out, many are ready and signed up.

Christmas lights and nativity scenes are far from the only preparations at St. Andrew.

“It’s a way of keeping social distance for all of our parishioners.”

The church’s pastoral associate David Heimann said every other pew will stay roped off on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A reservation is required to attend mass and now Christmas Eve is booked full. There is a waitlist in case people cancel.

“There’s both the spiritual health and the physical health. And it’s important to keep both in mind,” Heimann said.

Heimann expects about 300 people at each of the services, which is about half the church’s capacity. But not all churches will restrict visitors. The Archdiocese of Chicago said social distancing is encouraged, not required. But masks are mandatory.

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“This year we don’t wanna do that because we don’t want people lifting their masks to blow out a candle.”

The Fourth Presbyterian Church in Streeterville will use battery powered lights, not the real candles church members used to hold. Associate Pastor Rocky Supinger said the church will hold a socially distanced services at 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Their 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. services will be full capacity and they’re expecting about 500 people at each. It’s a big change from last year when the church only offered virtual Christmas services.

“We’ve tried really hard since we’ve come back to service in June to trust people to make the best choice for themselves but give people options.” Supinger said.

Both Fourth Presbyterian and St. Andrew will also live stream services. For those who’d rather spend their silent night at home. Mayor Lightfoot said City Hall is in contact with local religious groups about guidance and best practices.

She said some churches with older members are going fully remote and she supports that, but pointed out there are no capacity or vaccine mandates.

Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman James Scalzitti said “churches are encouraged to promote social distancing among parishioners as they are able, and everyone gathering indoors to celebrate Christmas is encouraged to wear a mask, to protect themselves and others.”

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“Even if you are vaccinated, consider a COVID-19 test (either through a healthcare provider or at home) before gathering, and encourage guests to do the same before indoor holiday gatherings. Tests can help protect unvaccinated children, older individuals, those who are immunocompromised, or individuals at risk of severe disease,” Scalzitti said in an email.

Tim McNicholas