Who Should Come? Women’s Ministry Leaders, Bible Study Teachers, Presbytery Women’s Leaders, Directors of Women’s Ministry…really any women who encourage and equip other women.
Women’s Leadership Training Conference
February 20-22, 2020 – Marriott Atlanta Century Center
Refreshed: Help and Hope for those who Suffer
Keynote Speakers: Nancy Guthrie and Vanessa Hawkins
Life and leadership under the Fall are difficult and challenging. As leaders there may be periods of personal suffering intertwined with the call to come alongside those who are suffering in the context of Women’s Ministry. What we all need is the refreshing balm of the Gospel to meet us in these afflictions. We need the help and hope only He can offer. Our aim at the 2020 Women’s Ministry Leadership Training is to help you not only think biblically about suffering but also learn how to love and lead those around you with compassion. This conference is filled with five keynote sessions and 15 workshops as well as many other opportunities to connect with hundreds of Women’s Ministry Leaders from across the PCA. I hope you will make plans to join us next February 20-22, 2020.
Please note: We filled prior to the registration deadline the past 2 years; do NOT wait to register for the conference or to make your room reservation at the hotel!
Early Registration Deadline: January 6, 2020
Registration Deadline: January 27, 2020 (or when conference is full) – Cost is $285 (does not include hotel cost)
Optional First Timer’s Luncheon on Thursday at 11:45 am – Cost is $15 – This is a great opportunity to have lunch prior to the beginning of Leadership Training as you find out what to expect at Leadership Training and hear tips for getting the most from your LT experience. Enjoy an informative (what DO all those acronyms mean?), high-energy, and personal introduction to LT, complete with give-aways! Plus, it’s a great place to meet people! Last year, it was exciting to see women interact as if they’d known each other for years, but they had just met the day before at the luncheon.
Before beginning the registration process, you will need the following information:
- Are you attending for the first time?
- Are you attending the luncheon for first timers? (If so, be sure to check pricing option that includes cost of the lunch.)
- Large Group Sessions (choose 2 of the 3 different choices)
- Workshop Choices (choose 2 different workshops)
- Medically-necessary Dietary Restrictions
Be sure to register for the hotel separately using the link. Hotel rooms must be reserved no later than February 4 (our room block ends that day and you will not receive the discounted room rate).
Do you have questions about Registration? Email Kathy Wargo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 678-825-1132. We have a limited number of partial scholarships available.
Marriott Atlanta Century Center/Emory Area – 2000 Century Blvd NE, Atlanta, GA 30345 – 404-325-0000
Hotel rooms are $109/night. All rooms have refrigerators.
Below you will find the reservation link your guests may use to make online reservations or call reservations at (1)-404-325-0000 until the cut-off date of February 4, 2020.
Here’s your reservation link to make reservations:
- Atlanta Marriott Northeast/Emory Area for $109 USD per night
Thursday, February 20:
11 am-Noon – Registration and Bookstore Open
11:45 am-1:00 pm – Welcome Lunch for First Timers
1:30-2:45 pm – General Session – Nancy Guthrie – Hearing Jesus Speak into our Sorrow
3:00-4:15 pm – Regional Gatherings #1
4:45-6:00 pm – Large Group #1 (Choice of 3 sessions)
6:15-8:30 pm – Dinner and General Session – Nancy Guthrie – Praying in Light of God’s Purposes in Suffering
Friday, February 21:
Breakfast on your own
9:00-10:00 am – General Session – Nancy Guthrie – Coming Alongside Those Who Are Grieving
10:30-11:45 am – Workshop Session #1 (Choice of 6 workshops)
12:00-1:15 pm – Lunch and General Session
1:45-3:00 pm – Workshop Session #2 (Choice of 6 workshops)
3:00-5:00 pm – Break – Time to network and fellowship
3:30-4:30 pm – Optional Affinity Groups: Writers, Arts, Pastors’ & Elders’ Wives, Paid Church Staff Women
5:00-6:15 pm – Regional Gatherings #2
6:30-8:00 pm – Dinner and Table Talk Conversations
Saturday, February 22:
Breakfast on your own
8:30-9:45 am – Large Group #2 (Choice of 3 sessions)
10:00-11:30 am – General Session – Vanessa Hawkins – Hope that Heals: When Life Leaves You Bitter
Plenary Sessions and Keynote Speakers:
Nancy Guthrie, host of the “Help Me Teach the Bible” podcast at The Gospel Coalition, teaches the Bible through numerous Bible study books, at her home church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as well as at conferences around the country and internationally. She and her husband, David, are the co-hosts of the GriefShare video series and host Respite Retreats for couples who have faced the death of a child. Her newest book is Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story.
Vanessa Hawkins is the Director of Women’s Ministry at First Presbyterian Church Augusta. In 2017, she received her Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary where she is currently pursuing her DMin in Cultural Apologetics and Communication. She also serves as the Diversity Advisor for the PCA’s Women’s Ministry. She is honored to be the wife of her third grade friend Marcus, and together they are the parents of Kayla, Sydney, Chelsey and a rambunctious boxer named Caspian. She enjoys a moderate hike, good conversation and a hot cup of tea.
Large-Group Sessions (Choose 2 of the 3 sessions offered):
Refreshed as we Consider How the Heavenly Reality Informs and Transforms our Earthly Experience—Chandra Oliver
Whether you are walking with others who are suffering or experiencing your own season of suffering—come and consider how the Heavenly Reality informs and transforms our Earthly Experience. Our time together will allow for teaching, discussion, and personal reflection. Paradigms and tools will be shared amidst laughter and tears—as we engage the mystery and beauty of the “already and not yet.”
Refreshed by God’s Sufficient Grace—Paula Miles
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:8) The apostle Paul, who is not a stranger to suffering, encourages believers as he addresses this topic. How do we apply Scripture to our own personal suffering as well as the suffering of others? Throughout Paul’s writing these themes emerge: reliance, rejoicing, and renewal. God in His Word never minimizes our suffering but against the backdrop of our eternal hope and glory He says it is light and momentary, “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Refreshed as We Steward our Suffering—Tami Resch
Whether muted or on surround sound, suffering screams. It echoes the “tragic intrusion of sin and death” into our world. It’s not if, it’s when. Our big brother, Jesus Christ, has carved ruts in the road before us promising a pathway through suffering—a pathway of His peace and presence amidst our pain. Together, we’ll learn some practical skills and tools to confidently enter suffering—your own and others—with “the gospel and your life as well.” We’ll expand our gospel fluency, gospel agility, and gospel bravery for navigating the hard of life.
Workshop Session #1 (Choose 1 of the 6 choices offered for Session 1):
Refreshed by Peace—Connie Miller and Jamie Williams
God has given us a blueprint for peacemaking. In the midst of often troublesome waters to navigate, God’s Word teaches us that we must anchor ourselves in Him. Join Jamie and Connie as they teach a biblical approach to embracing intentional peace-making in the midst of challenging relationships that result in peace with God and peace with one another.
Refreshed through the Word and Prayer—Susan Hunt
Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 refreshes our souls in all circumstances of life, including suffering. His prayer teaches us how to think and pray biblically as we suffer, and for those who suffer. We will use principles from John 17 to discuss practical ways a leadership team can suffer together and ways our women’s ministry can come alongside suffering women and comfort them with the Word and prayer. Please come prepared to share ways your covenant family cultivates a culture of compassion and ways you disciple women to rely on the power of the means of grace.
Refreshed by Faith in Spite of No Signs of Progress—Teri Anderson and Jane Anne Wilson
How does God build our faith when a relationship is the source of our suffering? A prodigal child, an addicted sibling, a wayward close friend can be such trials that test our own faith. When our heart is breaking and we do not know how to fix things, we are ready to be shown more of who our God is. The daily stress and strain of being closely tied to an impossible person can become a pathway to greater faith. Knowing Him when we are experiencing fear, anger, and even doubt reveals how we are to think and to live in a way that glorifies Him, even if we have “no clue” about His agenda. Whether you are ministering to those who are hurting or YOU are the one with the heartache, be refreshed as we go beyond the platitudes and keep our eyes on Jesus while the battle rages with our loved one.
Refreshed through the Refining Fires of Suffering—Paula Miles and Marcie Tuten
Refining gold involves a craftsman next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible stirring and skimming to remove the impurities or dross that rises to the top. Scripture says tested genuine faith is “more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire.” Our sovereign and good God, in the crucible of our suffering, grows us in holiness. He works everything for the good of His people according to His purpose, to conform us to the image of His Son. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)
Refreshed: Union with Christ through the Fellowship of Suffering—Lisa Tarplee and Christina Fox
Suffering and refreshment—is this an oxymoron? How can we be refreshed while going through seasons of suffering? How do we lead others to the source of refreshment in the midst of the pain in their lives? Christ invites all who are weary to come to Him and find rest. Learn what union with Christ means to us in our suffering and to the sufferings of others. Come explore with us the deep, abiding presence of Jesus as we walk through personal trials and alongside others in theirs. And as we look to our Suffering Servant, we will find that hardships provide opportunity for abounding joy in His presence.
The Word Is So Near: The Nourishment We Need in Suffering—Elizabeth Turnage
In the wilderness of suffering, stripped of the familiar, often isolated, confused, and distressed, we desperately need the nourishment of the very-near Word of God. (Re)discover how the very-near Word:
- Strengthens our faith by telling the whole story of the redemption of suffering in Christ.
- Enlarges our hope by revealing God’s purposes in suffering.
- Energizes our love by giving gospel comfort which compels us to comfort others.
Rekindle your passion for the necessary nourishment of the Word; learn how to rekindle this passion in those you lead.
Workshop Session #2 (Choose 1 of the 6 choices offered for Session 2):
Called to True Compassion: The Practical Application of the Parable of the Good Samaritan—Melanie Cogdill and Shea Patrick
What is true compassion? Does it differ from sympathy, pity or empathy? When Scripture talks about godly compassion, what does it really mean for Christians to be called to be compassionate people? This seminar considers the biblical mandate for God’s people to reflect His character by loving our neighbors both inside and outside the church by showing compassion to them. We will unpack the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and look at the implications of biblical compassion and consider a practical application. There are many situations that Christians face that call for the practical application of biblical compassion: ministering to those who have experienced trauma or abuse, divorce, death of a family member/child/spouse, ministering to the poor, ministering to the orphan through adoption or foster care, caring for a loved one with a long-term illness or addiction, ministering to immigrants in our communities, etc.
Refreshed by our Ezer and Life-giver—Susan Hunt
Scripture gives us foundational principles for womanhood and for developing and maintaining a Word-based, relationally-driven women’s ministry. Understanding these principles is a continual source of refreshment because they begin with God, not woman. These principles are the starting point for developing a theology-driven women’s ministry and avoiding the pitfalls of event-driven ministries. Whether you are beginning or re-vitalizing a women’s ministry, this seminar will provide resources and ideas to disciple women to glorify God by fulfilling our helper design and our redemptive calling to be life-givers.
Better Together: Refreshed in the Context of Community—Marcie Tuten and Robin Stevens
What does it look like for women to walk alongside each other during difficult seasons of life? Join us as we discover how cultivating a Word-based and relationally-driven model for women’s ministry creates a true Gospel community. Thinking Biblically about suffering so that we can apply God’s Truths to our situations leads to covenantal relationships in which women are free to hurt and grieve, while at the same time encouraged to proclaim, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Gospel Refreshment for Leaders in the Midst of Personal Suffering—Rachel Craddock and Connie Miller
As leaders, personal suffering is evidence that this world is not the way it is supposed to be! How do we think biblically about life-giving leadership in the midst of personal suffering? How is our confidence and calling transformed by the refreshing hope of the gospel? How can we lead when we feel personally weak, weary, unable, or broken? The world tells us to hold everything together in our own strength, but the gospel invites leaders to lean in to grace. It is only the sufficient grace of gospel that carries life-giving leaders through seasons of personal suffering. We invite you to come and be refreshed by this truth.
Crying, Waiting, Hoping: Grieving in Hope as We Wait—Elizabeth Turnage
Suffering often drops us into a story of crying, waiting and hoping. For example, infertility—waiting for pregnancy; fractured relationship—waiting for reconciliation; job loss—waiting for a new job. While our earthly hopes may not be fulfilled, Scripture teaches that we await a better hope, the final and forever fulfillment for which all creation groans and grieves. Discover:
- How we can grieve in hope as we await Christ’s return.
- How God meets us mercifully in our grief.
- How our hope can sustain others as they grieve.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Starting a Shepherdess Ministry but were Afraid to Ask—Bernie Lawrence and Ann Maree Goudzwaard
One of the distinctives of our PCA heritage is the strong theology of male leadership in the church, exercised by Pastors, Elders and Deacons. With that in mind, a relevant question for us to consider is: how are women to deploy their gifts as complementarians? How might the church grow in her experience of the abundant joy found in mutually dependent partnerships between men and women? This will be a timely discussion of the opportunities, responsibilities and potential pitfalls associated with men and women serving alongside one another in the church.
Teri Anderson and her husband Mark are Spring Meadows PCA members in Las Vegas, NV. They have two adult “kids,” a son-in-law, and enjoy their three year old granddaughter often! Teri taught high school before beginning her motherhood role and resulting home-based Mary Kay Cosmetics business, training and mentoring women of all ages. She has served as Women’s Advisor to Covenant College Board, and as an Alpha Omicron Pi Board member. Teri has taught Sunday School and women’s Bible Study, and been on Women’s Ministry Teams. Teri serves on the PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry Team as a Trainer and retreat speaker since 2001.
Melanie Cogdill is the general editor of Beyond the Roles: A Biblical Foundation for Women and Ministry (CDM, 2019). She on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as a Trainer and serves as an advisor to the PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries Permanent Committee. In addition, she is the managing editor of the award-winning Christian Research Journal and the host of its weekly podcast Postmodern Realities (available on Apple podcasts). She is a member of The Pelican Project (thepelicanproject.com/members/) and was a judge for the Christianity Today 2020 Book Awards in the Beautiful Orthodoxy category. She is a member of Christ Covenant Church in North Carolina where she lives with her family. She is also a very big fan of modern board games and likes to be a board game concierge for anyone needing suggestions for board games to play with family and friends.
Rachel Craddock is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University and a first-grade teacher at heart. She currently leads the Women’s Servant Team at North Cincinnati Community Church and serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as a Regional Advisor. She is the author of Slowly Unraveled (CDM, January 2019) and enjoys speaking and teaching at women’s retreats. Rachel is married to Michael and together they have four children: Ezra, Asher, Caleb, and Lydia Jane. She and her family are members of North Cincinnati Community Church in Mason, Ohio where her husband serves as lead pastor.
Christina Fox received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She is a writer, speaker, and author of several books: A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament, Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish, Idols of a Mother’s Heart and Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms. You can also find her work at TGC, Ligonier Ministries, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Revive our Hearts, Desiring God, among others. Christina is on the national women’s ministry team as Regional Adviser of the Southeast. She lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and two boys. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and at Facebook.com/ChristinaFoxAuthor.
Ann Maree Goudzwaard, Director of Communications for IBCD, is married to Bob Goudzwaard, mother to three married children, and grandmother to ten grandchildren. Ann Maree also serves at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Matthews, NC, counseling those in need and training the body to care for one another. Ann Maree is a certified biblical counselor, has an MDiv with a counseling emphasis from RTS Charlotte, and is a DMin candidate at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Vanessa K. Hawkins is the Director of Women’s Ministry at First Presbyterian Church – Augusta. In 2017, she received her Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Her lay counseling work, student advocacy and parent mentoring in the public schools of St. Louis and Brooklyn, IL helped prompt her current pursuit of a Masters in Counseling. She is honored to be the wife of her third grade friend Marcus, and together they are the parents of Kayla, Sydney, Chelsey and a rambunctious boxer named Caspian. She enjoys a moderate hike, good conversation and a hot cup of tea.
Karen Hodge serves as the Coordinator for PCA Women’s Ministry, where she seeks to connect women and churches to one another and to sound resources. She is also having the time of her life serving alongside her husband, pastor and best friend Chris, as they plant King’s Cross Church in Fort Mill, SC. Chris and Karen have two adult children, Anna Grace Botka and Haddon Hodge. It is from the perspective of a wife, mother, leader and fellow pilgrim that she hopes to offer insights from God’s Word concerning how she and they can most effectively learn to enjoy and extend God’s glory. Karen, along with Susan Hunt, authored Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver and Life-giving Leadership.
Susan Hunt is the wife of retired PCA pastor Gene Hunt. They live in Marietta, GA surrounded by their three children and their families. She is the former Coordinator of Women’s Ministries and the author of several books for women and children.
Bernie Lawrence has served on the pastoral staff of Christ Covenant Church, a PCA Church near Charlotte, North Carolina since 1991. He came to Christ Covenant over forty years ago when the church was a young mission work and became one of its first ruling elders when it was particularized in 1981. Bernie works closely with the Senior Pastor in the oversight and leadership of the church. In addition, he has responsibility for the oversight of shepherding and discipleship of Christ Covenant’s members. Bernie has been married to Pat for 38 years. (They met at Christ Covenant as the only two single people!) They have five adult children and three grandchildren.
Paula Miles is wife to Kevin, a ruling elder at Clemson Presbyterian, and mother of Wimberly Johnson, Janie Gotfredson, Clary, and Judy. She grew up in Anderson, SC and graduated from Clemson University. Paula has been a full time homemaker and a public school teacher. Studying and teaching God’s Word is her passion, as well as encouraging and equipping women to understand their design and fulfill their individual callings. Paula is on staff at Clemson Presbyterian as women’s ministry coordinator since 2014, is a conference speaker, and serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as a Trainer. She enjoys regular exercise, a good cup of coffee, watching sporting events, and investing in the lives of her family and friends.
Connie Miller has been married to Mike for 35 years and has three children. She was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for 12 years at USC. Then, she served alongside her husband while church planting in Jupiter, FL. Connie now serves with her husband at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC where she is involved with Titus II Ministries and Women’s Bible Studies. She is serving as a CDM Women’s Ministry Trainer and as an Advisor for Women’s International Ministry.
Married to a PCA Army Chaplain, Chandra Oliver travels the globe following her soldier husband. This past summer they moved from South Carolina to Washington – driving through 14 states is a long drive, but the opportunity to visit friends all along the way was a beautiful reminder of one of the “gifts” of military life. Loving a good challenge, Chandra enjoys studying the unique context of each military assignment to see where or how the Life-Giving truths of Biblical Womanhood can be shared in an ever-changing community. Prior to the military, Chandra served in women’s ministry in local church plants and PresWIC in the North Texas Presbytery. Currently, Chandra volunteers on the PCA Women’s Ministry Team as an Advisor-At-Large for Chaplain and Military Wives.
Shea Patrick is a former Alabama lawyer, now SAHM living in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She and her pastor-hubby have four children, including two adopted from foster care. Shea loves live music, reading, and watching reruns of the Golden Girls and Designing Women. She loves her church, Trinity Presbyterian, and serves with the kids, music, missions, and women’s ministry. Shea serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry Team as a Regional Advisor.
Tami Resch – Taking the hope of the gospel to the hearts of women is Tami’s work and play. She loves to create theological, practical, visual, memorable tools to help women come alongside their own heart and the hearts of others. In 2005, Tami co-founded Parakaleo who’s mission is to train, support, and value women in church planting. She co-authored Beyond Duct Tape and created Alongside Training (skills, tools, and dynamics for 1:1 conversations). Steve and Tami have been married 32 years and serve at the PCA church they planted in Columbus, OH in 1997. She’s “Jami” to two grandsons and one granddog.
Robin Stevens serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as a Regional Advisor. She and Mark, a ruling elder at Lagniappe Presbyterian, are parents to Sam, Katie, Nathan, Lucy, and Betsy. Robin lives in Bay St Louis, MS where she enjoys running, sewing, and taking drives down the beach.
Lisa Tarplee is wife to Adam and mother to Andrew (11) and Matthew (8). A graduate from Belhaven University, she is most thankful of BU as the place where her love for the Lord was ignited. Currently she volunteers in her church’s women’s ministry and loves teaching and discipling women. A creative at heart, Lisa enjoys painting with wax (encaustic) and growing as an artist who reflects God’s grace through her work. Lisa serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as a Regional Advisor.
Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage, writer, story coach, and teacher, is the founder of Living Story ministries (www.elizabethturnage.com). She is passionate about helping people learn, live, and love in God’s story of grace. Elizabeth is the author of TheWaiting Room: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in a Health Crisis as well as three Bible studies published by P&R Publishing. Elizabeth has been married to Kip Turnage for 37 years, and they enjoy feasting and telling good stories with their four adult children and three children-in-law. They are also the ridiculously proud “parents” of a beloved goldendoodle, Rosie.
Marcie Tuten is a wife to Chris and a mom to three little ladies. She lives in Atlanta, GA where she likes to drink coffee, read, and spend time with her family. Marcie serves on the PCA’s CDM National Women’s Ministry Team as a Trainer.
Jamie Williams currently serves as the Women’s Ministry Director at Spruce Creek Presbyterian Church in Port Orange, FL and serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as Regional Advisor to Florida. She has taught women’s Bible studies, Sunday school and VBS. In addition, she has facilitated Titus 2 groups, discipled Middle School and High School girls, led women’s ministry events, and coordinated women’s ministry conferences and retreats. Jamie has been married to Gabriel, a Ruling Elder in their church, for 18 years, and together they have four children and two grandchildren.
Jane Anne Wilson serves on the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) National Women’s Ministry team as a Regional Advisor. Wife to David and mother of four adult children, she earned her nursing degree from University of Delaware and worked in pediatrics. Growing up in the PCA gave her many opportunities to serve in a variety of contexts, including women’s ministry. Cuddling with her two grandbabies, long walks with her husband, and family reunions are her favorite blessings.
Lunch for First Timers:
On Thursday at 12:00 noon, we are offering lunch (additional $15) for first-timers! Find out what to expect at Leadership Training and hear tips for getting the most from your LT experience. Enjoy an informative (what DO all those acronyms mean?), high-energy, and personal introduction to LT, complete with give-aways! Plus, it’s a great place to meet people. Last year, it was exciting to see women interact as if they’d known each other for years, but they had just met the day before at the luncheon.
FAQs to Print:
Here is some information that will be very helpful for you to print ahead of time so that you have this information for traveling!
Directions: Traffic in Atlanta is heavy…allow plenty of time!
How much is parking? Parking is free at this hotel!
How do I get to the hotel from the airport if I’m flying? There are several options. You can take MARTA ($2.50) to the station near the hotel and get the hotel shuttle…or take an Uber or Lyft…or a shuttle…or rent a car. The MARTA ride is about 35 minutes, followed by a 3 minute shuttle ride (once you call for the shuttle).
Are there refrigerators in the rooms? Yes, there are refrigerators in each room (no microwaves).
Is breakfast included at the hotel? No, breakfast is NOT included. There is a restaurant and a Starbucks.
Where should I eat lunch on Thursday? If you are not attending the lunch for first timers, there is a restaurant at the hotel.
Can I fly in to Atlanta on Thursday morning? Yes, if your flight arrives by 11:30, you should be able to arrive at the hotel in time for the first session.