Fishtown: Local Preacher Reflects on “Fishtown Fame” Earned Through Netflix Show, Queer Eye

Pastor Noah at his church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement

Noah Hepler has been a pastor at Fishtown’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Atonement since 2015, but more recently he’s become, as he puts it, “Fishtown famous.” Helper starred in the season five premiere of Queen Eye, which aired last June. 

Were you surprised to be selected for Queer Eye? 

Yes, so the story was that the person who submitted my name called me after they had done it to let me know and make sure I was OK with it. I said ‘sure, I’m fine’ because in my head I’m thinking that nothing interesting happens in my life. 

What was the selection process like? 

The name-submitter got a call from the casting director, within hours I was on the phone as well. So, the day came when I was supposed to find out if I had been selected or not. The whole day had gone by and I didn’t hear anything because, you know, nothing interesting happens in my life. Then, ding! I got an email that said I would be moving forward. A producer called shortly after and it all took off from there. Now, I can’t say anything interesting ever happens in my life anymore! 

How long did filming run for the show? 

So, the actual filming process took four days of the week, everyone got a break on Wednesday. We were the title episode of the series, but we were actually the fourth or fifth episode they filmed. I’m not sure why they switched it, but it was cool being the opening episode for sure! 

What surprised you most about filming for Queer Eye? 

There were a couple of things that surprised me. What I don’t think most people realize is that production is very chaotic, and I think that’s universal for TV shows. There were just so many moving parts. For example, AMC’s Dispatches from Elsewhere was filming in the city at the time, so there was juggling between the two of us. You just learn to really appreciate the end product. Another thing was just that the producers, the main five guys — everybody involved has such a genuine spirit. 

You were featured heavily in the season five trailer, was that unexpected? 

I felt bad because I felt like I was very disengaged and I was worried that I didn’t give them much to work with. That next day the trailer came out and the first thing you hear is me. The trailer was so surreal, I was like half of it!

How much of the show do you feel was “real” and how much was scripted/prompted?

You always worry if a show is real or not, but they were so authentic. The Fab Five don’t wear earpieces, so they’re not being told what to do or fed lines. The camera crew is really good at disappearing into the background. They’re like ninjas! They really make you forget you’re on camera, it was so refreshing. 

Did you experience celebrity status around Fishtown?

People were a lot more aware of me and the church. Like, I’ll introduce myself to people in the community and they’ll be like ‘We know, you’re kind of Fishtown famous.’ And, of course, on social media, that skyrocketed. I think I went to bed with around 300 followers and now I’m at 15,000.

As an openly gay pastor, how did you feel about being showcased to such a large audience through the show?

It felt weird. There were some family members that I wasn’t out to and I realized that this was, in a way, going to be my second coming out. Even if they didn’t run in circles where they would ever bump into Queer Eye, it’s still going to show up on my social media which a lot of them are involved in. I actually came out online after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, so I’m pretty familiar with social media, but it was still so much interaction. There was overall such a positive outpouring of support, though. 

The season premiered in June of 2020, and there was a lot going on at that time. How do you feel this affected the show’s premiere? 

At the premiere of the season, Philadelphia was in the midst of joining the Black community in the mourning of George Flloyd’s death, and we [the church] were involved with that as well. I feel like that’s rightly so where the attention needed to be, even Queer Eye shifted their attention that way. Obviously, COVID-19 was going on a well so the church was not open. 

Pastor Noah describing his time on Queer Eye

Do you feel COVID-19 affected the popularity you would have received, had the church been open? 

If not for the pandemic, we probably would have experienced a rush in super high attendance for a couple of weeks, we never got that. I really don’t think we would have been ready for it. Overall, it actually helped us because we’re too small to keep up with the popularity the show would have brought the church had it been open. We were able to ease into this newfound fame a lot slower, which ultimately helped us out. 

Do you feel like the show accurately represented you, your church, and your staff?

One hundred percent, yes, that’ll be my shortest answer! 

If you could do it all over again, would you? What would you change about the experience? I would do it all over again, easily. I wouldn’t change anything … except, now I think I would be more engaged in the process. Even though it’s not true, I remember myself as being just this boring lump on the show. I think I would have built up this confidence for myself over time, but if it had not been for them it would have taken a lot longer. They have this gift where they can see what’s already in a person, highlight it, and bring it forward. That’s what they do, that’s what the show is all about.

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