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Religious conference draws thousands to Gwinnett Arena

Nearly 13,000 people from around the world attended the Catalyst Conference at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Thursday. This year’s three-day faith-based conference has a theme titled Known, which featured guest speakers, worship music and more. (Staff Photos: Brendan Sullivan)

Nearly 13,000 people from around the world attended the Catalyst Conference at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Thursday. This year’s three-day faith-based conference has a theme titled Known, which featured guest speakers, worship music and more. (Staff Photos: Brendan Sullivan)

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Above left, members from the band Sleeping at Last perform during the Catalyst Conference at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Thursday. Above center, Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, who was named one of Forbes’ 100 most powerful women, speaks to nearly 13,000 people from around the world who attended the Catalyst Conference. Above right, Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore was among the guest speakers during the conference.

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CEO of Burberry Angela Ahrendts who was named as Forbes’ 100 most powerful women speaks to nearly 13,000 people around the world who attended the Catalyst Conference at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Thursday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae Moore was among the guest speakers during the Catalyst Conference at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Thursday.

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Grammy Award-Winning Hip Hop Artist Lecrae Moore was among the guest speakers during the Catalyst Conference at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Thursday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

DULUTH —“For a whole year I’ve been waiting for this experience,” Vittoria Anderson said.

The Norcross resident was one of approximately 13,000 people who attended the 2013 Catalyst Conference this week at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The religious conference drew church leaders from across the country and even from Canada.

“My husband came last year and he told me how amazing it was and I wasn’t able to come,” Anderson said.

This was her year.

“It’s been really filling for me as I work in youth ministry at Perimeter Church (in Johns Creek),” she said. “A lot of times we give out so much but it’s great to get back.”

The theme of this year’s conference, which has convened for the past decade here in Gwinnett County, is “Known” — “You can only know where you are headed, when you know where you’ve come from.”

Main speakers for the conference, which started Wednesday, continued Thursday and concludes today, included Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Ministries based in Atlanta and author of “Deep and Wide,” Malcolm Gladwell, award-winning journalist and best-selling author of “Outliers” and “The Tipping Point,” Priscilla Shirer, founder of Going Beyond Ministries and author of “Discerning the Voice of God,” and Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, and one of Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women, among others.

Smaller group sessions were held Wednesday followed by the crowds filling the arena to listen to the scheduled speakers Thursday.

The duo All Sons and Daughters, Leslie Jordan and David Leonard, who hail from Journey Church in Franklin, Tenn., also performed Thursday.

“It was amazing, 13,000 people, it’s overwhelming,” Jordan said. “We just enjoyed being in a room full of people who are here to worship and learn about the word and learning how to serve their churches better, and that’s what we do on a daily basis. We’re on staff at our church back home. We care about the same things.”

This is the fourth year Chad Turner has traveled from his home in Greenville, S.C., and his home church of Advent United Methodist of Simpsonville, a suburb of Greenville, for the annual conference.

“It is probably the best conference you can go to for youth, music, church planning, that kind of thing, in the nation and we’re lucky that it’s right down the road,” he said.

Jenna Aycock attended the conference with a group from Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs.

“We wanted to learn about different ways to lead in a Christ-like manner, not just the worldly leadership,” Aycock said.

Anderson’s takeaway from the overall Catalyst experience?

“The presence of God, good word and great encouragement.”