Methodists live longer than the average Brit

by Richard on June 25, 2010

This news just in…

Last Sunday, Stanley Lucas of Cornwall died aged 110 (born on 15 January, 1900). Stanley was thought to be not only the oldest male member of the British Methodist Church, but one of the oldest men in the world.

Is this sort of longevity characteristic of Methodists? Seemingly, yes. An analysis of family announcements printed in the Methodist Recorder carried out by British Religion in Numbers, hosted by Manchester University, shows that in 1973 the mean age of death for Methodist laity was 77.9 years for men and 83 for women. By 2008 these figures had risen to 83.9 and 91.1 respectively – well above the life expectancy for the UK population as a whole (77 for men and 82 for women).

Dr Richard Vautrey, GP and Vice President of the Methodist Conference, said, “I’m sure there are many different factors at work for Methodists to attain these numbers. But I would guess that our emphasis on caring for our spiritual as well as physical health, avoiding excess, engaging with people in our communities and being good neighbours all help.”

The position for male Methodist ministers is similar, with a mean age of death of 83.4 years for those whose obituaries appeared in the 2009 edition of the Minutes of the Annual Conference and Directory of the Methodist Church. Since the Methodist Church began ordaining women in 1973, too few Methodist women ministers die each year to draw any meaningful conclusions.

And this is not a new pattern. Clive Field’s unpublished Oxford DPhil thesis of 1974 revealed that, until the beginning of the twentieth century, the death rate per 1,000 among lay members of the various Methodist denominations in Britain was appreciably below the national level, especially in Wesleyan Methodism. Published studies by Kenneth Brown (‘A Social History of the Nonconformist Ministry in England and Wales, 1800-1930’) and Tim Allison (‘An Historical Cohort Study of Methodist Ministers Examining Lifespan and Socioeconomic Status’ - University of Manchester MSc thesis, 1995) demonstrate similar trends. More information about the research can be found at British Religion in Numbers.

Methodist commentators, both in the Victorian era and since, were quick to point out that the longevity of Methodists was not accidental. They posited a clear link between a religious, ‘clean’ and virtuous life on the one hand and a long one on the other. The avoidance of physical and moral excess was especially advocated.

The Church’s annual governing body, the Methodist Conference, is currently meeting in Portsmouth, and begins every year with singing “And are we yet alive?”, a hymn by Charles Wesley.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Kim 06.25.10 at 9:49 pm

Geezzzzz (with the accent on the zzzzz …), your longevity would at least seem to prove that boredom is not fatal! Me, I’ve always been of the Blakean persuasion: “Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity”. And: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” But if I really wanted to start a fight, I would draw your attention to the fact that your typical biblical Pharisee lived a “‘clean’ and virtuous life”, while our Lord had the reputation of being a glutton and a toper. But I don’t, so I won’t. ;) Besides, you spared us the bathos of telling us that prayer is good for you.


Paul Martin 06.25.10 at 10:53 pm

I knew Stanley Lucas’ granddaughter Helen who was for a time an excellent Church Secretary of one of the churches I had care of on the Isle of Man. From what I gathered from her and things I have heard in these parts as he is in the next door circuit, he had not just longevity but quality of life. I heard he greeted people on arrival at his church on the first Sunday of the Millenium.

Sadly like others in the ministry I alos know the stories of fine people dying far too young! It’s a strange world.


malc 06.25.10 at 11:22 pm

you might get to live longer… but you do have to be Methodists as well!! ;o)

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