Methodists live longer than the average Brit

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

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

Dr Richard Vautrey, GP and Vice President of the MethodistConference, said, "I'm sure there are many different factors atwork for Methodists to attain these numbers. But I would guess thatour emphasis on caring for our spiritual as well as physicalhealth, avoiding excess, engaging with people in our communitiesand being good neighbours all help."

The position for male Methodist ministers is similar, with a meanage of death of 83.4 years for those whose obituaries appeared inthe 2009 edition of the Minutes of the Annual Conference andDirectory of the Methodist Church. Since the Methodist Church beganordaining women in 1973, too few Methodist women ministers die eachyear to draw any meaningful conclusions.

And this is not a new pattern. Clive Field's unpublished OxfordDPhil thesis of 1974 revealed that, until the beginning of thetwentieth century, the death rate per 1,000 among lay members ofthe various Methodist denominations in Britain was appreciablybelow the national level, especially in Wesleyan Methodism.Published studies by Kenneth Brown ('A Social History of theNonconformist Ministry in England and Wales, 1800-1930') and TimAllison ('An Historical Cohort Study of Methodist MinistersExamining Lifespan and Socioeconomic Status' - University ofManchester MSc thesis, 1995) demonstrate similar trends. Moreinformation about the research by British Religion in Numbers canbe found at www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=361.

Methodist commentators, both in the Victorian era and since, werequick to point out that the longevity of Methodists was notaccidental. They posited a clear link between a religious, 'clean'and virtuous life on the one hand and a long one on the other. Theavoidance of physical and moral excess was especiallyadvocated.

The Church's annual governing body, the Methodist Conference, iscurrently meeting in Portsmouth, and begins every year with singing"And are we yet alive?", a hymn by Charles Wesley.