Another month passes, and February 2004 draws closer. It was when it lay two years ahead, that I first began to take notice of this possible watershed moment. One year to go, and it became like a cloud darkening the sky. Now, it looms larger still.

There are two events in February 2004. The compensation option under the women priests measure will end, and the Nazir-Ali Commission will publish its report on women bishops. The first ten years of adjustment closes; a different decade opens.

A harder, sharper decade, when the issues will become still further polarized, and when our commitment to the Church of England will be tested more severely. The decision may already have been made, but February 2004 will mark the moment when it becomes irreversible.

It means there will be no back door escape route. I never had any intention of taking it, and yet it was there, as another element for day-dreaming, and that was sometimes gently reassuring.

It means that if we stay, lay and ordained, we ‘know’ that women bishops are coming, and we ‘know’ that we must now act, react, work, fight, struggle to establish a new province. There are no other compromises.

We know this already. February will tell us nothing new, but it will tell us what we have heard before in much greater clarity. Once it passes, the stakes will have been raised.

I shall look out of my study window at the bleak countryside battered by wind and cold and rain, and feel as miserable as the weather. But there will also be an inner warmth, a source of new fire. This is what standing by the Lord means, what my ordination vows have led me to, what being faithful to the tradition received now implies; before 02.04 it was but training and preparation.

The end of the measure may pass unnoticed; unless there is a final rush of applicants, it may not even be mentioned in the press. The report is only a report: it will make the headlines on the day it is released, and then fade into the twilight world of the General Synod. It may be a quiet month, but it will be a dramatic one. NT