The first episode of Queer Eye season 5 featured the Fab Five traveling to Philadelphia and coming into the life of Pastor Noah Hepler. Noah is pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood and opened up about his journey as an openly gay theologian. The Fab Five helped Noah in all aspects of his life, with Bobby Berk even giving Noah’s church a makeover as well.
Noah talked with HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY about how the Fab Five helped him through the “disconnect” he felt within himself. “For me, personally, there’s a form of prayer that we use frequently as a congregation. It’s called the Examen, and it’s a prayer of discernment but also a guided meditation,” Noah said. “For my own personal use, I use a YouTube video. The person guiding that prayer uses a phrase that says, ‘Come home to yourself.’ I always appreciated that phrase. I thought it was beautiful. But I was like, I don’t know what that means. I knew that I sensed in myself, and have been for a couple of years, a kind of disconnect. I think I knew that the phrase was important, but I had no idea what it meant or what that would look like. My experience with the Fab Five was just that. They helped me to understand what it means to come home to yourself, and I’ve been doing a lot more of that. I’ve been reflecting on my own life, where I felt like the disconnect might have happened and trying to do some healing around that. That has been good for both me and by extension the congregation because, as a leader in a community, I want to identify with the congregation. I don’t want to over-identify because that leads to some bad habits. I think I might have been headed in that direction. So this has been a time for me to re-situate myself in that space within the community.”
Since the episode was filmed, Noah has seen major changes in himself and within his congregation. To see the changes in his community has been “life-giving” for the pastor. “I think that the community is beginning to blossom a little more with leadership from within the congregation,” Noah continued. “It was already growing, but now it’s growing more. I can see that people are really beginning to step up and move into this unknown space of what was going to be the effect of Queer Eye for our community. That was a big unknown. We knew it was going to be good. We knew it was going to be big, but I don’t think any of us, despite the fact that they kept trying to tell us it was going to be huge, I don’t think we really realized the scope of what that would mean. As a result, people are really beginning to step up and the leadership is becoming more shared. For me, that’s really important for the congregation. It can’t be just me. It’s got to be a team. I’m convinced that life is always a team effort, and to see that blossom more in the congregation after our filming experience and after the episode has aired has been life-giving for me.”
Noah admitted that he was surprised by the “pace” of the show. What felt like minutes was actually hours. He also revealed that he’s still “surprised” by the love and care that the entire Queer Eye cast and crew put into telling his story.
“I would normally say I was somewhat surprised by the fact that they [the Fab Five] are in person the way they are on TV, but I had heard that so many times already that I wasn’t actually surprised by that,” Noah said. “I guess I could call that a surprise nonetheless, even though I knew it was going to be that way, but that was the big emotional surprise. Even though I’d heard this as well, the amount of work that you don’t even see that happens on the show that ends up remaining in the background is very powerful. I don’t know the exact thought process behind it, but I personally feel like there were a lot of things that I think the production felt like was a really intimate moment and they could show the power of that without actually jumping straight into something that was clearly very personal. I highly respect the way that they — not just the Fab Five but the whole Queer Eye family — handled my own story. I was expecting it to be told in a beautiful way, but I’m still surprised by exactly how the extent of care and love that they put in into what they do.”
Fab Five member Bobby Berk has been vocal about his painful religious upbringing. While we didn’t get to see it on the show, Noah revealed the advice Bobby gave him about opening up. “One of those things that you don’t see in the episode that happened was Bobby was also very encouraging to me about the value of taking the risk of opening up because he’s seen in his own experience about how much it has helped people, and the help outweighs the revisiting of our own hurts,” Noah told HollywoodLife. “The amount of help that he had seen really outweighed revisiting those hurts, so I’m thankful for him in the ways that he really encouraged me to. I mean, I was already in the middle of sharing my story, but it gave me a sense of my own sense of peace about what I was doing and that is something I’ll always be thankful for.” Queer Eye season 5 is now streaming on Netflix.