From a child, I've heard the term pillar used to refer to those who provided support, often in a quiet and unassuming manner, and especially in the context of the church. It always struck me as a high compliment.
Some of the columns are in the sun; up front and visible. Some stand in the shadows and carry their load unnoticed. Removal of any one of them would put a greater load on the others. And who knows how many could be removed before the structure would collapse.