Warning: Mild spoilers for Queer Eye season 5 are ahead.
The very first episode of Queer Eye season 5 almost immediately brought on the tears when Queer Eye hero Pastor Noah Hepler opened up about struggling with his identity as a gay man and theologian. But a lot has changed for Hepler since the Fab Five helped him see that living his truth was worthy of celebration not shame. The season filmed last summer, and Hepler tells Refinery29 that he's been busy working on himself and his church ever since his episode taped.
"My experience during the filming was the beginning of a new chapter. Changes like this take practice and time," Hepler says. "I've been trying to invest myself in that process every day, whether it's reviving the parts of myself that I've muted or nurturing healthy parts of my life into new growth." He adds, "It has been a lot of attentiveness to self care, realizing that doing that is not selfish, but part of what it takes to be fully present for others in your life."
Hepler's Philadelphia-based church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement, got a partial makeover by Bobby Berk on the show. And it has undergone even more improvements since the episode was filmed. "The pandemic slowed us down a bit, but we’ve started some repairs, especially to the house and other parts of our building used as community space," the pastor says. "We have been inspired by the changes seen in the renovated spaces, and are working on bringing a sense of renewed hospitality and peace to other parts of the building."
While dealing with the current health crisis, Hepler has been leading the church from home with online sermons and prayers posted to YouTube and Facebook. During this time, he's also made good on his promise to expand his knowledge of Queer Theology "as well as learning to address systemic racism within the church community," he adds. "All of that, to me, really is more than a makeover."
He did get more from the show than a superficial makeover, because he's done so much work on himself and his community since, but there were aspects of the physical makeover that really helped Hepler get some of his confidence back. He points specifically to the haircut that Jonathan Van Ness helped him with: "That moment of seeing myself for the first time really sums up the week," the pastor says. "I don't know what I was expecting. I figured it would look pretty good. But I was speechless. There was a moment when I irrationally thought it was some CGI trick."
It wasn't a trick, just JVN's usual brand of magic. And through the work all five of the show's hosts did with him, Hepler says he left with a renewed connection to himself.
"One of the greatest gifts of the Queer Eye team is the gift of being able to see yourself through someone else’s eyes," he says. "Even though I constantly talk about God's unending forgiveness and grace with others — I would rarely let that apply to myself." After recognizing that through Karamo Brown's time with him and meeting with some other gay members of the clergy on the show, Hepler began to give himself the same grace he readily extends to others. And he's kept on fighting that good fight ever since.